Yale fans who have had the pleasure of attending a football game this season have inevitably come away with heightened school spirit, intoxicating excitement and general euphoria — and this year it has much more to do with the quality of the team than the quality of the tailgate.
After the first four games, Yale emerged as the only Ivy school that can still claim an unblemished overall record, crushing opponents by an average margin of victory of just under 30 points per game. The team also decided to commemorate the Ivy League’s 51st anniversary by becoming the first team ever to post back-to-back 50 point efforts against league rivals, embarrassing Cornell and Dartmouth by scores of 51-12 and 50-10, respectively. The Elis have converted over 95 percent of their red zone attempts and rank second in the nation in rushing with 303.5 yards per game and fourth in scoring, averaging almost 42 points a game. While Yale is undoubtedly an extremely well-balanced and disciplined squad, it is no secret that the Bulldogs’ potent offensive attack begins and ends with running back Mike McLeod ’09.
Already this season McLeod has broken a slew of school records, amassing 13 touchdowns on 719 yards with an outstanding average of 5.6 yards per carry. In McLeod, Yale has perhaps the best back and most consistent offensive weapon in the league. He delivers game in and game out, and the Bulldog coaching staff has not hesitated to use him liberally in all situations — perhaps never more obviously than in the Elis’ first possession of the second half this past week against Dartmouth, when McLeod carried the ball five consecutive times, resulting in 43 yards and a touchdown.
But as successful as McLeod has been, and as physically gifted as he is, there may be some ramifications of Yale’s extensive reliance on the junior standout. In four lopsided victories, McLeod is averaging over 32 carries per game and is currently projected to finish the season with 323 rushing attempts — almost 30 more than last year’s total. Add that to the fact that McLeod is a power running back — literally running over and plowing through defenders up the middle — who takes a beating from eight- and nine-man fronts designed specifically to stop him. One can imagine that even the most resilient athlete might get worn down over the course of a season. With inevitable close games and the bulk of the Ivy League season ahead, maybe we should consider cutting back on rushing attempts now to ensure McLeod has enough juice against perennial archrivals Princeton and Harvard, who are, by the way, still undefeated in the league.
Granted, we did see some of that in last week’s game against Dartmouth. With the Bulldogs up by 33 points midway through the third quarter, McLeod sat the rest of the game and back-up tailbacks Ricardo Galvez ’10 and Jordan Farrell ’10 finished up the afternoon. Galvez, incidentally, put in a very strong performance, finishing with 75 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
But as a fan and a fantasy football enthusiast, McLeod sitting might be the last thing you want to see. He is undoubtedly one of the most exciting players to lace up for the Blue and White in recent years and is already among the great tailbacks in school history. This season alone, McLeod has set Yale records for most rushing yards in a single game (256), most consecutive games with at least one touchdown (13), most touchdowns in one game (5) and most career touchdowns (38). With six games remaining this year, and presumably ten next season, McLeod needs only 621 yards to eclipse the Yale record for most career rushing yards and 22 scores to set the career rushing touchdown mark in the Ivy League. Whether you’re a football fan or not, who doesn’t want to see McLeod break yet another record? Before it is all said and done, who knows where McLeod might stack up against the all-time Ivy greats? Besides, every record McLeod shatters is another mark we get to tell the next generation of Yalies we had the privilege of witnessing.
But McLeod’s success here might have a much more tangible impact on the Yale football program than simply fan appreciation. McLeod’s individual accolades, combined with the team’s recent success, will inevitably draw a strong recruiting class for years to come. McLeod recently became the first Eli ever to be named to the Walter Payton Award watch list — an award given to the best offensive player in 1-AA football. Recent award winners include the likes of Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook and Brian Finneran. And after potentially breaking every Ivy League mark kept for running backs, what else might McLeod have to do to find himself on the final Heisman Trophy ballot? He would be the first FCS (formerly 1-AA) player to garner such recognition since Alcorn State alum McNair in 1994. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
If McLeod could bring home any of these trophies to Yale, it would mean a significant change in how future recruits view the Bulldogs and Ivy League football on the whole. Renown of that magnitude could do a lot for potential players contemplating how widely recognized one can become at an Ancient Eight school. Not to mention, it would be another achievement McLeod could add to his collection.
Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.