The Bulldog defense may bend, but it doesn’t break.
The Elis rank fourth in the Football Conference Subdivision, formerly IAA, and first in the Ivies with only 12 points allowed per game. In comparison, second-place Harvard is giving up 20 points per game. The Bulldogs’ defense has been head and shoulders above its Ancient Eight counterparts despite ranking third in the Ivies in pass defense and second in rushing defense.
“We don’t blitz, we don’t stunt too much, and we don’t put ourselves in bad positions,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “We have a tendency to give up a lot of yards in between the 20s, but when it comes down to it, you’re going to make a mistake, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”
The key for the Elis has been shutting down their opponents when it matters. The Bulldogs allow teams to score on only 66 percent of their red zone opportunities and lead the Ivies in both red zone defense and turnovers forced. During last Saturday’s game against Lehigh, safety Steve Santoro ’08 continued the trend by coming through with a crucial interception with the Mountain Hawks threatening to score from the Yale 15-yard line. The turnover preserved a tight 10-7 lead.
“I’d like to say I made a really good play, but I think I got a little lucky,” Santoro said. “The quarterback threw it behind the receiver, and it hit his hand.”
After missing the first game of the season, two-time All-Ivy selection Hollander has been a disruptive force for a dominant Eli defense. The senior nose guard commands double-teams nearly every play, freeing up the rest of the defensive line and allowing the Bulldogs to get pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz.
Because of the constant attention, Hollander’s contributions do not always show up on the stat sheet — he has only eight tackles this season. Despite the lack of statistical accolades, the captain was singled out last week by head coach Jack Siedlecki after turning in one of his best performances of the season against Lehigh. Hollander recorded four tackles — 1.5 behind the line of scrimmage — and was credited with half of a sack alongside Jared Hamilton ’08.
“If you’re going to double Brandt, it’s going to free up some other guys,” Siedlecki said. “But if you don’t, he’s going to make some plays coming through in the backfield. It all starts in the middle for us. We’re a 3-4 team, and you better have a nose guard who can cause havoc and challenge people’s schemes — and that’s what we have.”
The Bulldog defense will see a mirror of itself in this Saturday’s game against Penn. Defensive coordinator Rick Flanders and defensive line coach Duane Brooks both joined the Elis after spending time at Penn. Despite sharing a similar coaching pedigree with their Bulldog counterparts, the Quakers have not been nearly as successful at stopping opposing offenses.
Penn is allowing opponents to score on 92 percent of their red zone opportunities — second to last in the Ivies. In spite of the high conversion rate, the Quakers are tied with Harvard for second in scoring defense. The Bulldogs will face off against arguably the best defense they have seen this year during Saturday’s game at Franklin Field.
“We’re 2-0 in the Ivies and we’re in first place and we’re going to Penn,” Siedlecki said. “We haven’t won in Penn in a long time. We’re going to work our tails off and we’re going to have a great week. We have to go down there and play a great football game.”