McLeod catalyzes Eli streak

There are players that do precisely what is asked of them, stepping up and filling their roles to bring their team to new heights. Then there are players who simply exceed all expectations.

The astounding play of running back Mike McLeod ’09 over the past four games would put him undisputedly in the latter category.

Eli tailback Mike McLeod ’09 gets taken down by a swarm of Lehigh defenders in Yale’s 26-20 win at the Yale Bowl on Saturday. McLeod’s 204 yards on the ground were the best by any Bulldog since 1991.
Matt Lucas
Eli tailback Mike McLeod ’09 gets taken down by a swarm of Lehigh defenders in Yale’s 26-20 win at the Yale Bowl on Saturday. McLeod’s 204 yards on the ground were the best by any Bulldog since 1991.

Just when it seems as though he has established a new and insurmountable personal best, McLeod comes back the next game with an even more prolific offensive output, impressing teammates and opponents alike. In fact, McLeod has increased his total offensive production in every game this season — not an easy feat considering he recorded almost 150 yards of offense in the Elis’ second game against Cornell.

“Mike is a special player,” cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 said. “He takes advantage of opportunities and makes big plays. When he gets the ball, we know he can make something happen.”

Recently, McLeod has been making a lot happen when he touches the ball. Last week, he tore up the Lehigh defense for a career-high 204 yards rushing on a career-high 40 carries, while registering 51 yards receiving and leading Yale to its fourth straight win. McLeod’s 204-yard output was the fourth highest in school history and his 40 carries rank second on the Bulldog’s all-time record list. This explosion came directly after earning consecutive Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 198- and 172-yard rushing efforts against Dartmouth and Lafayette, respectively. McLeod leads the Ivy League and is currently fourth in all of Division 1-AA, with an average of 148.2 yards per game on the ground.

“We know we can get positive yardage almost every time we run the ball,” quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 said. “Our O-line has been great, but if there happens to be a guy unblocked, Mike has the ability to make him miss or just run him over.”

Not only has McLeod started to alter Yale’s record books, but he has also proven himself to be a clutch performer, finding a way to come up with big plays in critical situations. McLeod’s exciting late-game scores against Lafayette and Lehigh proved to be game-closing touchdowns and were a crucial part of keeping the current win streak — Yale’s longest in three years — alive. He has rushed for nine touchdowns in the team’s last four games, and has 10 of Yale’s 15 touchdowns on the year. His 12.0 points per game scoring average puts him third in 1-AA football.

Despite his obvious talent, McLeod will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t done it all himself. The experienced offensive line, with five returning starters, led by pre-season All-American Ed McCarthy ’07, has consistently kept opponents’ defenses at bay and opened up big holes for Yale backs all season.

“[The offensive line] has been dominant up front all year,” linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “They have really come together as a unit and Mike has been phenomenal in reading the hole and getting downfield.”

Because McLeod alone demands so much attention from opposing defenses, other aspects of the Yale offensive arsenal have finally been able to come alive. Polhemus, who himself has steadily improved in every outing this season, had his finest game last week, connecting with seven different receivers and completing 18 of 26 passes for 236 yards. His efficient play led to a breakout game for captain wide-out Chandler Henley ’07. Henley tallied a career-high 122 yards on eight grabs against Lehigh.

This Saturday, McLeod will attempt to become only the fourth Bulldog in history to record five consecutive 100-yard games. For the Bulldogs to continue this hot streak, McLeod will need to maintain his superb numbers. It is a tall order, but a sheer necessity if the Elis hope to topple Penn for only the third time since 1992.

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