After a week of talk about the disappointing loss to the University of Pennsylvania last Saturday, the Bulldogs want to put that subject to rest and focus on the present.
“I am not going to keep talking about Penn,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We are going to play Columbia and we are going to go after Columbia. The only way to feel better is to win the game on Saturday.”
This weekend, the Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) host the Lions (1-5, 1-2) as each team fights to capture an elusive second win in the Ancient Eight. Although on paper the Lions may not look as impressive as Lehigh or Penn, this will be the first time Columbia head coach John Shoop ’88 faces the Elis in the stadium where he once played as a wide receiver and later coached.
“[The Lions] have been very, very aggressive and they are feeling good about themselves,” Siedlecki said. “[Shoop] is as upbeat and excited a person as there is and he is going to have his guys cranked up to play.”
The Lions’ aggressive style of play finally paid off last weekend despite being competitive in many games this season. After holding Penn to 14 points and losing to Princeton by one in overtime, the Lions notched their first win of the season with their 9-6 victory over Dartmouth last Saturday.
“Obviously we are very excited,” Shoop said. “It was the icebreaker for us. We played well on defense, finally came up with a couple of turnovers, and offensively we moved the ball a little better.”
The Lions secured the win with three field goals by place kicker Nick Rudd, who was named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week. Besides making a career-long 39-yarder, Rudd now holds the Columbia record for career field goals with 21.
Despite the win, the Lions are ranked sixth in the league for field goals, having made only four out of ten. The Lions are also last in the Ancient Eight for extra point kicking. If the game on Saturday is close, Columbia’s inconsistency on special teams may well affect who comes out on top.
The Elis do not plan on Saturday’s game being close though.
“We’ve just got to play,” Siedlecki said. “The game’s got to be fun again. We’ve got to get away from putting expectations on ourselves that we don’t need.”
Expectations against Columbia aside, if the Elis are going to restore their confidence with a solid win at home, the Bulldogs need to control the football. For one thing, the Elis must win the battle for third-down conversions. Currently, the Bulldogs are 31 percent on third-down conversions, putting them at sixth in the league. In addition, they are ranked seventh in opponent’s conversions, allowing foes to move the chains 40 times on third down. In close contests, these kinds of numbers are not going to win games, Siedlecki said.
The whole offense will need to step up Saturday and make the plays that count in order to possess the ball. Tailback Rob Carr ’05 is currently second in the Ivy League with 802 rushing yards, but on key possessions he has gotten shut down by opposing defenders. Led by captain Rory Hennessey ’05, the offensive line has the ability to open up more holes for the running game and extend Eli drives. Since the Lions stand last in the league for rushing defense, allowing 180.5 yards per game, Eli rushers have the potential of having break-out performances.
A stronger Bulldog aerial attack will also help spread out the Columbia defense led by Michael Quarshie, who has 11.5 tackles for a loss of 59 yards. Quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 is currently the most efficient passer in the Ancient Eight with 1,175 yards, going 101-for-173. With the proper opportunities, he has the ability to break through the Lions’ third-ranked pass defense. But he will need to be in sync with wide receivers Ralph Plumb ’05 and Chandler Henley ’06, who are both averaging over 70 yards receiving per outing.
After a loss to a strong rival, though, it can be easy to point fingers at what has gone wrong instead of focusing on the positives.
“Coming off two losses, getting excited is not that hard to do,” place kicker Andrew Sullivan ’05. “As seniors, even if we are not in the title hunt, we are coming in with the same intensity. We have to make sure the younger guys know a season doesn’t end six games into the season.”
The defensive plan will probably be very similar to what it has been for most of the season, even though the Bulldogs are ranked last in total defense by allowing 381.3 yards of offense per game. Nevertheless, the defense is a strong unit, linebacker Cole Harris ’05 said.
“After the offense comes off, the defense thinks about what we need to do,” Harris said. “Whether it is the first series or the last series, we have to do our job. We are a solid team with great players, we have just done little things that hurt our chances of stepping up.”