This is David versus Goliath, sans slingshot.
When Yale plays Columbia this Saturday, the second-best rushing offense in the country will go to work against the nation’s second-worst rushing defense. While the Bulldogs continue to run all over their opponents, the Lions are just being run over.
Columbia has given up 799 yards on the ground combined to their last three Ivy League opponents, allowing Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton to record at least 260 rushing yards each. Princeton, ranked second in the Ivies with 163.2 rushing yards per game, trails the league-leading Yale rushing offense by over 140 yards a game.
“It’s a tall order to come out and beat this Yale team right now,” Columbia head coach Norries Wilson said. “Yale is everything they were prescribed to be this season.”
Against a vaunted Penn rushing defense that has allowed only 2.7 yards per carry, the Bulldogs were able to pick up 185 yards on a respectable 4.1 yards per rush despite losing backup running back Ricky Galvez ’10 to injury and watching Mike McLeod ’09 fight through pain for most of the second half.
Although the Bulldogs are heavy favorites on paper, the huge arm of All-Ivy quarterback Craig Hormann gives the Lions a fighting chance. Hormann, ranked second in the Ivies with 271 passing yards per game, continues to rewrite the Columbia record books. He moved into second place for career passing yards and sixth place for total touchdown passes after his impressive performance against Dartmouth last week.
“I think he might be the best throwing quarterback in our league,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “He’s got some good receivers and they can score points in bunches if you let them. They may throw it as many as 50 or 60 times, and you can’t let him get into a rhythm.”
Columbia utilizes a pro-style passing offense that relies on three- and four-wide receiver sets. Unlike the Bulldogs’ previous opponents, the Lions emphasize a vertical passing attack and will not hesitate to attack teams downfield.
Against Dartmouth, Columbia’s wide receivers recorded catches of 43, 40, 33 and 21 yards, demonstrating the Lions’ big-play ability. Freshman wide receiver Nico Gutierrez finished the game with 132 yards on five catches, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
“It’s exciting as a [defensive back] knowing you’re going to get a chance to make some plays,” Paul Rice ’10 said. “I’m really excited to go against an offense like this.”
Hormann’s counterpart, Yale quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08, may not put up mind-boggling numbers, but he has the intangibles needed at the game’s most important position. Despite passing for only 99 yards in the first four quarters against Penn, Polhemus came up big in all three overtimes. Polhemus opened the extra periods with completions of 21, 19 and 20 yards, respectively, bringing the Elis within striking range of the end zone each time.
“Matt is as competitive as anyone out there and he stepped up and made plays again,” Siedlecki said. “The bottom-line number is that he’s 14-2 as a starter, and we haven’t had anybody like that since I’ve been here.”
The Bulldogs, one of six undefeated teams in the Football Championships Subdivision, have dominated the Lions for most of the century and boast an impressive 63-18-2 series lead. The Elis will look to extend their current five-game winning streak over the Lions on Saturday at newly renamed Robert K. Kraft Field.