In the long and grueling football season, not every weekend presents a legacy-defining game. But the Yale football team will have an opportunity to take part in such a contest this Saturday when Penn rolls into town.
As impressively as the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) have played lately and as much as they have improved from the beginning of the season, they still have a great deal to prove this weekend against the Quakers (4-1, 2-0 Ivy). With both teams laying their unblemished Ivy League records on the line, this Saturday could be a valuable indicator of how the Ancient Eight will shake out this season.
Unfortunately for the Elis, modern history does not lie in their favor. In fact, no team has beaten Yale more soundly and consistently than Penn has in recent years. Yale has dropped 12 of the last 14 meetings and has not registered a single victory against the Quakers since 2000.
But if we are to take anything from the Bulldogs’ performance up until this point, it is that they are certainly not in the business of repeating their mistakes of years past. The 2006 squad has replaced last season’s frustrating inability to close out games with solid, cool-headed play down the stretch this fall. Players said they recognize the magnitude of this game and the long-term implications it carries with it.
“We realize that this game will determine the rest of our season,” offensive tackle Ed McCarthy ’07 said. “In that sense, it is our most important game. The seniors have never beat Penn, so we are very pumped to have a chance to change that.”
If the Bulldogs hope to reverse their current losing streak to Penn, they will have to work hard to fend off the dominance Penn displayed on both sides of the ball in last year’s embarrassingly lopsided loss. The Quaker offense ran off the game’s first 38 points — in only three quarters — while their defense smothered Yale’s offense, limiting the Elis to only 50 yards on the ground. Tailback Mike McLeod ’09, who is averaging almost 150 yards rushing per game this season, mustered only 39 yards against the stingy Quakers in last year’s blowout.
“Penn probably has the best defensive line that we have seen and great linebackers,” McCarthy said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for myself and the offensive line to open up holes for Mike.”
The Quakers are coming to the Yale Bowl fresh off a commanding 16-0 victory over Columbia. The win, fueled by a solid all-around team performance, marked the Penn’s first shutout since 2004. Senior wide receiver Matt Carre used a four-catch, 102-yard effort to become the 14th Quaker in school history to record 1,000 yards receiving. In addition to Carre’s offensive milestone, defensive tackle J.J. Stanton’s crucial third-quarter field-goal block earned him Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Though Penn appears a potent adversary and a definite challenge, the Bulldogs are confident they have what it takes make the Quakers’ first Ivy road game as unpleasant as possible.
“We just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 said. “We all have a lot of confidence in one another and we all want this game bad. We are a different team than people have seen in the past and we’re going to go out and prove that again this weekend.”
Yale and Penn are not the only teams with perfect Ivy records heading into this Saturday. Harvard and Princeton, both undefeated in league and non-league play, face off against each other in an effort to establish their status in the Ancient Eight. This four-way race for the Ivy title is sure to become considerably more interesting following this weekend’s play.
“We’re looking at the last five games as a five-game playoff, but this is obviously the biggest week of the year,” middle guard Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “It’s Separation Saturday in the Ivy League, this week and we’re excited. Hopefully we’ll get a big crowd to come out and it’ll be a great game for us.”