The Elis’ hardest challenge of the season may be arriving this Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl.
The No. 22 University of Pennsylvania (4-1, 2-0 Ivy League) has been in a class of its own among the Ancient Eight over the past two seasons, winning 17 consecutive Ivy games. Yale (3-2, 1-1) has just recovered from a loss last weekend to Lehigh and is looking to end the Quakers’ impressive streak.
Despite the two teams’ record in the past few seasons, both will be bringing a closely matched offensive arsenal to the field on Saturday.
The Bulldogs almost pulled off an upset of Penn last year at Franklin Field. Playing in a thrilling overtime game, the Bulldogs came short against the Quakers 34-31, after an incredible run to erase a 31-10 deficit. The Elis tied the game at 31 with just over half a minute to go in the final period but had a field goal attempt blocked in the extra session. They allowed the Quakers to get away with a narrow victory.
With both teams playing solid defense all season, fans can expect to see the score being kept pretty close this weekend, and it is possible that the game will be determined by a field goal like last year. The good news for the Bulldogs is that kicker Andrew Sullivan ’05 has made every field goal and PAT try so far this season, including booting a career-long 38-yarder against Lehigh last week, while Penn’s Evan Nolan is 3 for 8 on field goals and has missed one point-after boot.
Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said he knows his team has to be prepared for a Yale squad finding its stride.
“[Yale] has got a lot of pieces in place and are capable of exploding at any time,” Bagnoli said. “They’re becoming the force they had hoped to be.”
One huge battle will be between the signal-callers. Penn quarterback Pat McDermott is having yet another great season, averaging 232.6 passing yards per game with only one interception. The Bulldogs’ Alvin Cowan ’05 has statistics close to McDermott’s. Cowan is completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 205.2 yards per game.
In the rushing game, Yale tailback Robert Carr ’05, who has averaged 127 yards rushing per game, holds the edge over the opposing Penn running back Sam Mathews, who is averaging 75.8 yards.
The match-up of the receivers will be the closest of all. Quaker wide receiver Dan Castles is close to making history this season with 25 career touchdown receptions, only one shy of tying the all-time career record set by Miles Macik in 1995. Castles has also taken third place in all-time career receptions with 161 and is averaging 91.6 receiving yards per game this season.
Eli wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 has averaged 77.4 receiving yards this season, but he has been a great threat to Penn in the past. Last year, the Quakers held a comfortable 31-10 fourth-quarter lead over the Bulldogs before Plumb scored back-to-back touchdowns to help send the game into overtime.
“Our defensive coordinator mentioned today how much Castles is like Ralph: big receiver, avoids collisions very well and uses his body well to shield defenders from the ball,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
The biggest deciding factor of this game will be on the defense, which Penn has been excelling in this year. So far, the Quaker defense has allowed only an average of 12.4 points per game while the offense has scored an average of 31.0 points per game.
Cowan may also have to watch his back against a Quakers ‘D’ that has amounted 16 sacks in the past five games.
But McDermott will also have to keep an eye out for Eli defensive back Fred Jelks ’05 and defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06, both of whom have three sacks apiece.
In the end, the Quakers will still have an edge over the Bulldogs in this weekend’s game, but fans should definitely expect a contest that was just as close as last year’s overtime thriller. Siedlecki has the same expectations.
“A similar game with the final result reversed would be my preference,” Siedlecki said.