Elis look for two straight

In the tale of two cities, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The city of San Diego was the worst. That was where the Yale football team (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) squandered a 14-0 first-half lead to fall 17-14 to the underdog Toreros.

New Haven was the best. That was where the Elis roared back with a resounding aerial — and physical — assault on favorite Cornell, winning 37-17.

Tomorrow New Haven will again be the host city, as Holy Cross (2-2) pays Yale a visit. Despite the friendly confines, the question remains: Which team will show up?

“Hopefully the one you saw on Saturday,” quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 said. “The first game was tough. First games are rough for a lot of people — it was my first game in two years. It wasn’t a great atmosphere for us to do well. That’s no excuse, but it seemed like there was a lot stacked against us. When we came home it was a much better atmosphere obviously. Hopefully you’ll see that again.”

Yale hopes to see the same Jeff Mroz as well.

After an uneven performance in San Diego, Mroz exploded for a school-record-tying five touchdowns last week, making the forward pass a bona fide weapon for the Elis — not just the third-down resort it has too often been.

“First game back everything was feeling kind of fast,” Mroz said. “My footwork was awful. Sure, I had five touchdowns, but I thought I could’ve played a lot better. Each week I need to continue to get better.”

Any better might be unfair to ask of Mroz, although Yale’s quarterback will need to sustain at least some semblance of last week’s preponderant level if he wants to keep pace with the Holy Cross offense.

The Crusaders have averaged a staggering 37 points per game, the second most in the Patriot League, and even mustered 21 and 23 points against powerhouses No. 15 Harvard and No. 5 Delaware, respectively.

Led by a do-everything tailback (Steve Silva) and a no-turnovers quarterback (John O’Neil), the Holy Cross attack will pose a major challenge for Yale’s hitherto stingy defense. Of the 15 or so players who should see time on offense for the Crusaders, 11 are seniors, most started a year ago, and six received preseason All-Patriot League first- or second- team recognition.

Nevertheless, cornerback Andrew Butler ’06, a near lock for all-league honors himself, is hardly worried.

“I remember with San Diego they had two really good receivers and a pretty good quarterback,” he said. “However, we exploited their weakness in their front five and sort of shut down their receivers, so we can definitely do the same with Holy Cross. I hear their front five isn’t so strong either. That’s why they run so many screens and sprint outs, trying to move the pocket.”

Butler also expects the defense to knock the Crusaders off their screen-and-sprint-out strategy, as it did last week by forcing run-first Cornell to throw 40 times.

“We’re great at stopping the run and getting the team to go to backup plans,” he said. “Cornell came in trying to run the option all day. Holy Cross has the most balanced attack we’ve seen so far, but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle.”

Defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06 had a different take, candidly allowing that the Blue D has been slow to wake up in its first two games.

“Not yet,” he said, when asked if he felt the defense was prepared for Holy Cross. “But after that first drive we should be fine. That’s just how we do. It’s impossible to do game speed in practice. I hate to say it, but [only] after we see them, [do] we stick it to them. It happened in San Diego a little, and definitely at Cornell.”

Even if the defense stumbles out of the gate, Yale’s offense can rest assured knowing it has one thing the Crusaders lack: receiver Ashley Wright ’06. The senior enjoyed a breakout — and record-tying — game against Cornell, catching seven balls for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He beat man coverage whenever the Big Red was foolish enough to play it and made tough catches whenever in traffic.

All of which makes his quarterback, who lives and breathes football, only more excited for kickoff — non-league game or not.

“You only get 10 games,” Mroz said. “Put me out on the moon against the worst team in the country and I’ll be excited to play football.”

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