After Tigers debacle, Univ. must assay coaching issue

“Last year’s senior class was the first one never to see a victory over Harvard, and I fear the class of 2006 will not see one either … I’m afraid that if there isn’t a coaching change, Yale football will continue to be mired in mediocrity and irrelevance … Maybe the football team will blast through the rest of their opponents this year and win the Ivy League. But somehow, I doubt it.”

—September 20, 2005

Let me preface this column by saying that the Yale football team has had a great season, riding a historically impressive performance from running back Mike McLeod ’09. But Saturday’s game against Princeton yet again exposed the shortcomings of Yale football head coach Jack Siedlecki, whom I wrote about last year. I fear that if Yale somehow beats Harvard this year (in spite of, rather than because of, the coach) and gets a share of the Ivy League title (which would be superficial if Princeton also wins next week), the Yale athletic director will forget the five consecutive losses to Harvard, the back-to-back defeats at the hands of San Diego — a team that had previously never beaten an Ivy League opponent and regularly schedules games against NAIA and Division III opponents — and doom us to another ten years of coaching ineptitude.

This weekend’s Princeton game was hauntingly reminiscent of last year’s loss to Harvard, in which Yale blew an 18-point second-half lead with minutes to go. Let me remind you of what happened in that game last year. After two long Harvard drives to start the game, the Yale defense stopped the Crimson in the red zone twice. The Eli offense then followed suit, scoring two touchdowns to finish the half and then adding another to start the third.

But then Siedlecki started to “coach,” and he did what he knows best — he sat on the lead. Harvard began to take what the loose defense gave it and threw to the underneath routes, and Harvard tailback Clifton Dawson became the fifth running back last season to lead his team in receptions against Yale.

Later in the game, Crimson cornerback Steven Williams intercepted a pass and returned it for a score. Highlighting what a coach is supposed to do, Williams described the play. “We knew that was a big route for them. Coach said, ‘If they run that route, just run with him.’” A complete meltdown and three overtimes later, Yale ended up losing to Harvard for the fifth straight time.

This year, Siedlecki was fortunate to inherit a team that aligns perfectly with his passive tendencies. For someone who believes passing is anathema while holding a lead, it’s nice to have the best running back and running quarterback in the league. So for the whole first half during the Princeton game, Siedlecki looked like a genius running the ball down the Tigers’ throats in building up a 14-point lead.

But Siedlecki revealed during the second half that the word “adjustment” isn’t really in his vocabulary. The changes made, if any, were to go from 355 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in the first half to 59 yards and a field goal in the second, and to allow a quarterback who threw five interceptions last year to look like Peyton Manning and dissect the Eli defense for a ludicrous 455 passing yards.

So what happened?

Coach Siedlecki said, “We just didn’t have the answers and didn’t make plays in the second [half], and that’s not a good combination.” The problem, however, is that everyone in the stadium except Siedlecki knew what the answers were, and Princeton head coach Roger Hughes took advantage of this.

The answer to the Tigers’ stacking the line and daring you to throw is not to run on first and second down and then throw it on third and long. The answer to a Tiger quarterback picking apart your Cover 4 zone defense on his way to the fourth-highest total number of passing yards in a game in Princeton history is not to continue playing that defense until you sacrifice the lead.

And worst of all, the response to a late-game deficit is not to burn all of your timeouts on an offensive possession so that if your defense — a defense that had not even proven that it could stop the Princeton offense in the second half — does not come up with a 3-and-out, your team is doomed to a loss. Of course, Yale did not score on that offensive possession in which they burned all of their timeouts and the defense was unable to come up with the 3-and-out. And of course, Siedlecki proved yet again that even if he couldn’t spell the word “adjustment,” at least he could spell “collapse.”

Dan Ly graduated from Yale College in 2006.

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