Last year the Yale-Brown game was all offense, but this year it could be all defense.
Although the Yale football team (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) got into a 99-point offensive shoot-out with Brown (4-3, 1-3 Ivy) last year that broke the series record for total points in a game, the matchup this year in Providence is looking quite different, given the way these two teams have been playing defense. The Bears’ stoic defense has held opponents to 294.3 yards per game — 15th nationwide among Div. 1-AA schools and tops in the Ivy League. Despite giving up 378.9 yards per contest, the Eli defense has had the mental and physical toughness to hold on and put opponents away late in three games this season.
The Bulldog defenders want some payback against the Bears after the Elis gave up 55 points in the 2003 game.
“We want to go out and show what we are doing this year,” linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 said. “We are an improved defense.”
Breunig currently leads the Bulldogs in tackles with 31 unassisted, 39 assisted and one sack. These statistics also place Breunig third in the Ancient Eight. As one of two starting linebackers, Breunig may have to tackle even harder this weekend if his partner Cole Harris ’05 is unable to play. According to Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki, Harris received a muscle contusion in last weekend’s win over Columbia but is doing fine and will probably be ready to play.
The linebackers will play a significant part against the Bears whether Harris starts or not. The Bears will be throwing the third-ranked rusher in the Ancient Eight, Nick Hartigan, at the Bulldogs and it will be up to the secondary to stop him if and when he breaks through the defensive line.
“As a linebacker, I love it when they run [the ball],” Breunig said. “There are more opportunities for me to make tackles and make plays. It’s a challenge but it’s fun.”
Hartigan has racked up 884 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Because of his help, the Bears’ rushing offense is second only to Harvard’s in the Ivies.
“He’s a special kid to carry the ball 30-some times a game and to be so durable,” Brown head coach Phil Estes said. “He seems to get better as the game goes on. He has a tendency to wear defenses down.”
Siedlecki said Hartigan’s possession of the ball has contributed to the Bears’ defensive successes by limiting the time the defense has had to play.
“He really earns his yards,” Siedlecki said. “You’ve got to get in the situation where you stop him on first down.”
The Bulldogs are not exactly empty in the backfield either. Tailback Rob Carr ’05 has 15 more yards on the ground than Hartigan, ranking him second in the Ancient Eight. With 41 fewer carries than Hartigan, Carr should also have fresher legs. Despite that, he may not be able to generate a great deal of success against the Bears.
“We are going to go in with certain things we think we can and cannot do, that’s the thing when you’re a multiple offense like we are,” Siedlecki said. “But [the Bears] are basically saying that you are not going to run the ball against us.”
If that is the case, the Elis may go to their “lightning” formation for offensive results. “Lightning” is the Bulldogs’ name for their four wide receiver setup. Last week in their last-minute loss to the University of Pennsylvania, the Bears forced the Quakers to keep throwing and will strive to do the same this weekend to quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 and his wideouts, including Ralph Plumb ’05.
Plumb said the Bears put a lot of defenders in the box to shut down the run, which creates opportunities for an aerial strike.
“When we have shots down the field, we have to execute,” Plumb said.
Plumb is ranked second in the League for receptions per game with 6.71. He also leads the Elis with 534 yards receiving. A native of Providence, R.I., Plumb said it is nice to have the chance to play in front of his family and friends.
Besides needing the win to hold on to their team’s third place standing overall, the developing rivalry with Brown adds some extra incentive for the Bulldogs.
“There is still a lot of emotion,” Breunig said. “You feel it on the sidelines.”
Estes said the proximity of the teams makes for a natural rivalry although many teams in the Ivy League already have rivalries with one another.
“I guess that’s the fun of the whole thing,” Estes said. “Certainly I don’t think anyone leaves the stands early, because it goes right to the final bell usually.”