Give your support in football’s nervy final three weeks

When the undefeated Yale football team — perched atop the league standings and ranked No. 13 in all of the Football Championship Series — traveled to New York City this past weekend to face Ancient Eight bottom-dweller Columbia, few of those in the stands expected to witness five turnovers and a scoreless first half from arguably the most potent offense in the Ivy League.

In an ugly first half, marred by a constant downpour and distracting winds, both teams struggled to build any semblance of offensive momentum — combining for a total of eight turnovers — and trudged toward the locker room with no points to show for their efforts.

Despite Yale’s dominance thus far this season, last Saturday’s first half demonstrates the underlying parity in the Ivy League and, more broadly, the equalizing factors in football generally. One might be tempted to attribute the Bulldog offense’s uncharacteristically sloppy first-half display to an outstanding and relentless defensive performance by Columbia — which allows over 260 yards on the ground and 32 points per game. But the Bulldogs’ three first-half fumbles and two interceptions are much more likely the result of ineffective offensive execution and stormy weather conditions.

The second half marked a change both in the weather and the Elis’ level of intensity. The Bulldogs forced two more Lion turnovers, scored on the first four possessions of the second half and registered yet another lopsided victory, 28-7. So does it really matter what the half-time score was?

I think so. The fact that the worst team in the league, with a grand total of two Ivy wins in the past two years, can play an entire half dead-even with the league’s top team is significant. Any team in the league really can beat any other team — and quite possibly ruin Yale’s perfect season in the process.

All of McLeod’s broken records and the team’s one-sided victories early in the season will be for naught if the Bulldogs cannot hold on for an Ivy League title. Ultimately, this team will be judged by whether or not it is able to bring home a repeat title for the first time in 25 years.

Yes, I realize Yale dominated the second half, held the ball for over 20 minutes and won by 21 points — but that was Columbia, a team that has not won the title since John F. Kennedy was president. That a banged-up Mike McLeod struggle for a season-low 3.9 yards per carry and cough up two fumbles doesn’t inspire confidence either.

To be fair, it was only one bad half, and every team has off days. As head coach Jack Siedlecki put it, “We played 60 great minutes of defense and 30 great minutes of offense. We just did not take care of the football in the first half, but we’re a resilient team.” The Bulldogs did bounce back remarkably well in the second half and showed glimpses of why they were a unanimous preseason selection to repeat as Ivy League champions.

Despite throwing two interceptions and dropping one fumble, quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 showed why he is such a versatile offensive weapon for the Elis: his ability to run with the ball. Polhemus compiled 92 rushing yards for the afternoon.

McLeod was able to overcome lingering soreness in his foot from an injury he sustained two weeks ago against Penn and muscled his way to three touchdowns and 135 yards. He has single-handedly outscored Yale’s opponents this season, 126-87, and averages 18 points per game. Apparently not content to set exclusively football-related records, McLeod is attempting to become a standard of comparison for other sports: no Yale men’s basketball player has averaged 18 points a game in nearly 20 years.

Even with the solid play up to this point, the prospect of squaring off against Harvard (4-0 in the Ivy League) and Princeton (2006 Co-Ivy League champions) appears downright worrisome. There is no doubt Saturday’s game starts the toughest stretch of the season for the Bulldogs.

The 2007 football team is undoubtedly one of the most talented and dominant squads Yale fans have had the privilege of watching in many years. The Bulldogs are now one of only 10 teams still undefeated in all of Division I football. As such, we have something of an obligation to value our position.

Somewhere between SAT scores and GPAs, Ivy Leaguers have forgotten the reason the Ancient Eight was founded: football. Let us at least take a moment to appreciate that we attend Yale at a time when our school is at the top of a league that has historically prided itself on football. Yale might capture back-to-back championships for only the third time since the league was established and for the first time in more than two decades.

Whether you are an avid football fan or not, surely this merits passing on a Saturday afternoon date in newly-renovated Bass Library to attend this weekend’s showdown with Brown? Saturday marks the last chance Eli fans have to see their team in action at home before Harvard comes to town.

Even if you know nothing about football — if you think it is supposed to be played with a round ball and shin guards, or that the shotgun formation sounds dangerous — come out to a game and support possibly the best Bulldog squad in recent history. Do it for the Yalies who sat through five consecutive losses at the hands of Harvard; do it for Yalies from the ’90s, who had the good fortune of seeing Tupac and Britney (with hair), but were repeatedly denied Ancient Eight football championships; do it for every football fan who wanted to see Yale rise up out of its mediocrity to the summit of the Ivy League, so that they might vicariously have the pleasure of experiencing a Bulldog that routinely spanks opponents by 20 points a game.

See you on Saturday.

Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.

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