Tomorrow Yale (2-3, 2-0 Ivy) and Penn (4-1, 2-0) will clash in Philadelphia in a battle of the Ivy League’s last unbeatens. The Elis will look to atone for last year’s second-half meltdown that resulted in a 17-7 loss. The Quakers will look to hold back tears.
The game will be Penn’s first on the Franklin Field turf since the shocking suicide of teammate and running back Kyle Ambrogi Oct. 10. The Quakers pummeled Columbia 44-16 on Saturday.
“That team has obviously been through a hell of a lot the last seven days,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “It’s amazing how they played considering that they hardly practiced last week. Now [this week] they’ve gone through two days of a wake and a funeral.”
Ambrogi’s younger brother, Greg, is a defensive back on the team, which makes coping even harder.
Nevertheless, for 60 minutes tomorrow, grief will recede into autumn oblivion, and the Quakers will be their normal selves.
That should concern Yale, because “normal” Penn has been almost unstoppable this season. The Quakers lead Division I-AA in run defense and are seventh in scoring offense.
“They have a big, physical team with big, physical linebackers whose job is to defend the run,” Siedlecki said. “[Pass coverage] is secondary to them. They’re No. 1 in the country versus the rush so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Last week Yale faced Div. I-AA No. 21 Lehigh, the nation’s ninth-best run-stopping defense, and the result was 30 yards on 16 carries for Mike McLeod ’09 and an unimposing one-dimensional offense for the Elis.
Siedlecki held that poor field conditions precluded the running game in Bethlehem, but he admitted that the offense needed to run the ball more and would stand no chance if quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06, the team captain, continues to throw the ball 50 times per game.
Conditions should be fine for tomorrow’s contest, as Franklin Field features an artificial turf playing surface.
“I’m excited to play on a nice surface,” guard Brett Crandall ’07 said. “I’m on the line so it has been difficult [the last two weeks] to get good footing between the hash marks.”
Cornerback Andrew Butler ’06 has also been hampered by the sloppy conditions.
“It’s like running at the beach in sand,” Butler said. “You’re slower and get tired faster. In the fourth quarter your legs are dead.”
Butler and the Yale defense will need their legs tomorrow, especially with news surfacing this week that All Ivy defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06 will miss the remainder of the season with a back injury. In Dyches’ place will be Stan Malyszka ’07 and Kyle Hawari ’09.
The role of Malyszka and Hawari, as with all Yale ends, is three-fold. They must stop the run when All-Ivy running back Sam Matthews and co-conspirator Joe Sandberg tote the ball; they must get a rush on quarterback Pat McDermott, who might have the quickest release in the Ivy League; and they must cover superstar tight end Chris Mizell as well as Matthews and Sandberg when they slip out of the backfield.
Despite the tall task, Butler and the Elis have confidence entering the second half of the season.
“It has a different feel in that we control our own destiny,” Butler said. “The seniors know what they have to do to win [the Ivy League] and winning this game is the first step.”