The leaves have changed, the temperature has dropped and the calendar has reached November. And Yale is still playing meaningful football games. The Bulldogs have made it this far with victories against the three worst teams in the Ivy League, but now the schedule turns as cruel as the weather.
The Elis (3-4, 3-1 Ivy) host Brown (6-1, 3-1) at noon tomorrow, a battle of two of the four teams in a tie atop the Ivy League standings. Princeton and Penn, the other two teams at 3-1, will kick off in Philadelphia at the same time.
It will be a serious test for the Bulldogs. Brown beat Penn last Saturday, just a week after Penn pummeled Yale, 38-21. Brown running back Nick Hartigan spearheads a dangerous Brown attack. A senior from Fairfax Station, Va., Hartigan leads Division I-AA and is third in all of Division I in rushing yards per game (159.0). He ran for 1,498 yards as a sophomore, the fourth-highest total in league history, and amassed 17 touchdowns last year, good for fifth place in the Ancient Eight single-season annals.
Hartigan is by far the best back Yale has faced this season, which does not bode well for a team that has yielded 100-yard rushing performances to two no-name backs: San Diego’s Luke Siwula and Columbia’s James Cobb.
The key to stopping Hartigan, a big, sturdy back with quick feet but not exceptional speed, is to outnumber Brown up front. The Bears, on average, give Hartigan the ball over 30 times per game, letting him pound away behind a steady, athletic offensive line.
Safeties Nick Solakian ’07 and Matt Handlon ’06 will need to live in the box to keep the numbers in Yale’s advantage. When they come up, however, Brown may turn to its capable passing attack and home-run threat Jarrett Schreck.
“Part of Brown’s game plan is to lull the secondary to sleep,” said cornerback Andrew Butler ’06, who will need to stay awake while covering Schreck. “[Schreck] has been averaging 25 yards per catch. We have to make sure we don’t give up long touchdowns trying to prevent two-yard gains.”
For Yale the strategy is not so different. Brown ranks 105th in Division I-AA in rush defense (212.7 yards per game), so the Bulldogs will need to take advantage of one of the Bears’ only weaknesses.
“They’re a good defense, however I feel like they have a lot of holes we can exploit,” running back Mike McLeod ’09 said. “They have a great linebacker but I think we have a great running scheme that will be able to produce against them.”
McLeod, just a freshman, has not had the dominant year some predicted for him after he showed flashes of superstardom in September. His mediocre numbers are in part due to quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 throwing more passes (36.5 per game) than anyone foresaw in August. Tomorrow the Bears’ soft run defense — with the exception of that “great linebacker,” Zak DeOssie — will give McLeod the chance to strut his stuff, and he will have to, because Hartigan and the Bears will purge the clock if given the ball.
Should McLeod slice through the Brown defense, it will be off blocks from a new fullback. This week Joe Fuccillo ’08 replaces two-year starter Taylor Craig ’07, who went down last Saturday with a minor leg injury. He is expected to return next week.
Fuccillo is eager to prove his mettle against DeOssie.
“I’m excited for it,” Fuccillo said. “It’s a great first challenge. To be able to prove myself against him shows that I can compete with anyone in the league.”
The same, of course, goes for Yale against Brown.