FOOTBALL | Bronx Zoo: Bulldogs v. Rams

Coming off its first road and Ivy League victory over Dartmouth last weekend, the football team heads south on I-95 into the City that Never Sleeps to battle the Fordham Rams this Saturday.

The contest — Yale’s final one in its non-conference schedule — is slated for a 1 p.m. start at Jack Coffey Field.

Although it’s against a non-conference opponent and it does not have an effect on the Bulldogs’ standing in the Ivy League race, the squad is still looking forward to seeing how it stacks up against one of the region’s best. Since no Ancient Eight teams are given a chance to participate in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, these opportunities are not common for the Bulldogs.

The Rams (2-3) are off to a rough start — they’ve dropped their last two games — after being selected as the Patriot League favorites. Despite that, they will be a tough opponent for Yale (3-1, 1-1 Ivy). Fordham, the reigning Patriot League champions, earned an automatic bid to last season’s FCS national playoffs.

“We have played Lehigh over the past five years and our players liked the fact that they were getting an opportunity to play against a team that was going to the national playoffs on a regular basis,” head coach Jack Siedlecki explained. “Fordham won the Patriot League last year and went to the playoffs, so it is an opportunity to measure ourselves against a playoff-caliber team.”

On offense, the Rams are averaging 22.6 points and 398.6 yards of total offense per game.

The team is led by captain and quarterback John Skelton, who at six-foot-five and 230 pounds, isn’t your typical quarterback. The El Paso, Texas native has averaged 251 yards per game through the air and has thrown for six touchdowns and five interceptions. The junior isn’t afraid of scrambling either — Skelton has also rushed for two scores.

Skelton’s go-to-guy has been fellow classmate Asa Lucas, who has caught 30 balls for 391 yards and three touchdowns.

Behind Skelton lies a formidable tailback. Sophomore Xavier Martin has averaged over 105 yards per game through the squad’s five contests to go with five touchdowns.

“They do a number of things exceptionally well,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “They have a great pair of running backs and a quarterback who is probably one of the better ones we’ll see this year. Overall they’re a great team that’s capable of making a big play at any given time.”

But the Yale defense isn’t your average defense.

The Bulldogs allow just 14.8 points per game, placing them fourth in the nation, and lead the Ivy League in interceptions (10) and turnover margin (1.25). The impressive turnover margin is ninth in the FCS.

Defensively, Fordham has allowed 24.2 points and 330 yards per game. The Ram defense is known to take risks with the zone blitz and give up big plays. But when they are on their game, teams have a tough time driving down the field and putting six on the board. Some days it works; other times not so much. In its first three games, Fordham allowed just 14 points per game, but in its last two losses, its opponents put up an average of 38 points.

With that, the Elis will look to establish the run early and use play-action passes down the field to catch the Ram defense off-guard. Last week, the Bulldogs were able to connect on a few big plays, including a 60-yarder from quarterback Ryan Fodor ’09 to wide receiver Reid Lathan ’10.

“We need to keep improving every week,” Siedleck said. “After a poor offensive showing at Cornell, we have put together two pretty good offensive games. We need to continue to get better in the run game and keep developing the ability to make big plays.”

The run game has taken major strides over the past couple weeks, leading to Yale’s most productive game against Dartmouth. The offense was able to rush for 140 yards; Mike McLeod ’09 was credited with 135 of them. But the Elis know the rushing attack isn’t where it could potentially be, especially after McLeod’s record-setting season last year.

“Obviously we need to play with more consistency in the run game,” tackle Darius Dale ’09 said. “We’ve made strides with our assignments and effort level. Now we just have to do the same good things on every play, so that we can eliminate the zero and minus-yardage run plays that have plagued us on just about every offensive drive.”

After this weekend, the Bulldogs finish out the season with five consecutive Ivy League games, beginning with an Oct. 25 matchup against Penn (2-2, 1-0) at the Yale Bowl.

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