Predictable Elis need a shakeup

Apparently none of the editors of this newspaper liked my last column. Jess, my editor, said it didn’t have any coherence. A half-tipsy Managing Editor yelled at me that it wasn’t about anything. And the Editor-in-Chief just shook her head at me when I asked her what she thought.

This has taught me a very important lesson in column-writing:

It’s really, really fun to piss off your editors. Especially when they’re younger than you.

But on to the column.

This past weekend was the first time this fall I’ve been able to watch Yale football. I even tried to get up to Brown to see the game live. But my friend Zack decided Montreal was more exciting than Providence, and everyone else I know with a car was just kind of being lame.

So it came to pass that I woke up at 11:45 on Saturday, brushed my teeth and turned on the YES Network. I think it’s great that Yale football is aired on the YES Network for two reasons. First, it’s legitimizing to some degree. Second, it’s fun to realize that the YES Network looks remarkably like the cable access channel that aired my high school team’s games. I guess those two points sort of cancel each other out, but who’s counting?

Anyway, the game gave me three reasons to be excited about the prospect of a Yale Ivy title this fall. First, Mike McLeod can run the ball. Second, the offensive line is solid. And third, the relatively young defense can step it up when it needs to. Brown QB Joe DiGiacomo made some stupid throws, but any time a linebacker gets three picks in a game, you know he’s doing something right. Well done, Bobby Abare.

Unfortunately, the game also underscored the seemingly perennial woe of Yale football: conservative play calling and complete predictability.

Case in point: At least a handful of first-and-10 situations saw seven Elis bunched together on the offensive line and the sole wideout go in motion. My 15-year-old brother who does nothing but sit in the basement and play World of Warcraft could have told you we were running the ball up the middle.

By the middle of the third quarter, the Brown defenders weren’t even bothering to worry about much else. How do I know? Because for the first time in my 17-year football watching career, I saw the defense line its cornerbacks up just outside the offensive tackles.

In football, as in life, a little mystery goes a long way. I’m going to shoot myself in the foot and use dating as an example here. You can’t telegraph what you’re really thinking or show too much interest, because that would take away the mystery of it, and you become predictable and unexciting.

Jack Siedlecki has mastered the football equivalent of walking up to a girl and saying, “Nice shoes. Wanna f***?”

Another example from the game. On successive third-and-one situations, Matt Polhemus hands the ball to fullback Taylor Craig, who punches through for a first down. Next time, the offense lines up the same way and runs the same play. Showing remarkable capacity for memory, the Brown defense swarms Craig’s point of attack and drives him back for a loss.

It’s like that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa and Bart play Rock, Paper, Scissors. Lisa thinks, “Poor Bart, always chooses rock.” Bart thinks, “Good old rock, nothing beats that.” Bart gets tackled for a two-yard loss every time.

Now, in an alternate universe, Polhemus doesn’t hand the ball off to Craig. He fakes the handoff and passes the ball to a wide-open Chandler Henley. One of three things happens. Henley, presuming the usual, gets hit in the back of the head with the football. Two, Henley catches the ball, but is so shocked that he stands with dropped jaw until he’s leveled by a Brown safety. Or Henley makes the catch and runs untouched for a big gain.

The senior captain and wide receiver is, don’t forget, a big-play threat. Think back to two years ago, when he was expected to make game-changing acrobatic catches on a pretty regular basis. Saturday, he made a beautiful catch on a Polhemus fade pass to put Yale up 17-7. And while McLeod may have scored the go-ahead touchdown, it was Ashley Wright who caught a short pass to the outside and turned it into a 71-yard gain to set up the late score.

Lastly, while Polhemus is in his first year as a starter, he looks perfectly comfortable throwing the football. And not only did he not throw much, he didn’t run much either. The more he’s allowed to move and make things happen, the more defenses will fall apart. THEN give the ball to Mike McLeod and see what happens.

The logical response: We won. True. But it meant coming from behind to beat a 2-5 team that ranks fourth of eight in run defense in the Ivy League, allowing 136.4 yards per game. Princeton, Saturday’s opponent, is second, allowing 108.9 yards per game on the ground. And Harvard allows less than half that: a paltry 53.2 yards per game. By the numbers, running up the middle time after time won’t cut it anymore.

Before the season, I said Yale would have to utilize its wideouts, arguably the most talented duo in the league, if they were going to succeed. I was wrong. But there’s only so many times Sid can get away with giving it all up on the first date.

Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column appears on Thursdays.

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