Ancient Eight football will have seven chances this weekend to prove conference dominance over the Patriot League and maintain a stronghold on FCS (Division I-AA) football in the Northeast. All but Brown will square off against a Patriot foe on Saturday, though Yale, the preseason Ivy League favorite, may have the easiest test of them all.
The Bulldogs (0-0, 0-0 Ivy) will commute to Washington, D.C. for the first time in school history to do battle with the Hoyas of Georgetown (0-2), who were picked to finish last in their league. The Elis will be carrying flags of blue and white and of Ivy green as they hope to continue an Ancient Eight stranglehold on the Patriot teams — the Ivies won 14 of 18 matchups last season.
But the Elis seem determined not to allow the Hoyas’ recent gridiron woes to affect their approach to the game.
“It doesn’t matter who were playing, as long as it’s a football game we’re going to be fired up to play,” quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 said. “Especially because this is our opener, I have no worries that the team is going to be ready to play.”
Defensive back Larry Abare ’09 said no game can be wasted in such a short season.
“We only get to play 10 games as a team,” he said. “We really push to get everything we can out of every game, whether it’s a non-league game or not.”
Fellow defensive back Steve Santoro ’09 echoed the same sentiments. He said that even though the Georgetown game will have no bearing on a run to the Ivy League championship, it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to pick up a win.
The Elis will undoubtedly look to exploit a weak Hoya run defense that gave up 350 yards on the ground in its opener against Stony Brook and 188 yards against Lafayette last week. Tailback Mike McLeod ’09, who enters the season on the Payton Award watch list, comes off a season in which he ran for 1,364 yards and a school-record 20 total touchdowns.
Despite inauspicious statistics on the part of the Hoya run defense, head coach Jack Siedlecki said Georgetown has a couple of outstanding players on their defensive line. To try to stymie McLeod and other Bulldog runners, the Hoyas will use an eight man front that sometimes incorporates a ninth man.
“We need to get our new offensive line and receiver corps off to a good start,” Siedlecki said. “Sharp execution is always the biggest challenge on offense in season openers, and that is a major goal of practice this week, to sharpen up everything on offense.”
Sharpness and precision is something Georgetown seems to have figured out, at least through the air. Senior quarterback Matt Baussuener completed 68.9 percent of his passes in 2006, a Patriot League record, and after two games this season, the Hoya general maintains a 69.8 percent completion percentage, good enough for ninth in the nation. Baussuener will look to wide receiver Charlie Houghton, the team’s leading receiver and reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Year.
With an inexperienced offensive line featuring two sophomores, Siedlecki said he expects the Hoyas to run a combination option and short pass offense.
“They will throw for a high percentage as many balls are thrown behind the line of scrimmage,” he said. “The key is not letting their skill players make yards after the catch. They have an experienced quarterback that runs and throws well, and we need to do a good job containing him.”
Abare said his defense has to respect the speed of Georgetown. As a result, the team will work to stop big plays by the Hoyas and control specific parts of the field.
“It is going to be important for us as a defense to control the outside,” Santoro said. “Georgetown runs a ton of screens and sweeps.”
If the Hoyas have any advantage heading into Saturday’s contest, it is the fact that they’ve already taken the field twice this season. Polhemus said there is no way to get ready for a game other than to play the game itself. But he also said he believes his team, which has been in preseason mode for about a month now, is the most prepared it has ever been going into an opener.
“We’re just excited to finally be playing our first game,” Abare said.