Saturday’s football matchup between Yale and Penn was just as advertised.
Coming into the contest, the teams boasted the Ivy League’s top two defenses. But it was the Quaker unit that was the better of the two, and that didn’t change this weekend.
Fittingly, Penn (4-2, 3-0 Ivy) went into the Yale Bowl on Saturday afternoon and narrowly defeated the Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2), 9-7, in an ugly defensive showdown.
Things were going Yale’s way early on when the Eli defense came through yet again with another huge turnover. For the third consecutive week, cornerback Paul Rice ’10 hauled in an interception.
“It was a third-down play,” Rice explained. “We were in a three-deep. I was a little late on [the quarterback’s] break. Basically. I got lucky — the ball was a little behind him and I was able to get it.”
Rice returned the ball down to the Penn 17-yard line and two plays later, halfback John Sheffield ’10 was credited with a seven-yard touchdown run on a screen.
But besides that, Yale couldn’t do anything effectively offensively. With constant pressure from the Quaker defense, the Bulldogs managed just 92 yards of total offense and didn’t record a first down until their eighth drive.
Head coach Jack Siedlecki took the blame for the unit’s poor showing.
“As I said to the players, this one’s on me,” a visibly dejected Siedlecki said. “I had no answers offensively, and we’ve got to get it squared away. We did not give our players a chance. We were absolutely ineffective with what we were doing.”
Brook Hart ’11 got the start at quarterback after the usual starter, Ryan Fodor ’09, was ruled out due to a shoulder injury he sustained in last week’s loss to Fordham. Hart finished the game 13 of 22 for 77 yards and one interception.
“We’re certainly not laying any of this on the quarterback — let’s get that straight right now,” Siedlecki said. “We did not protect [Hart]. We didn’t put him in situations to succeed, and that’s our job as a staff.”
The lack of protection was a huge issue for the Elis as the offensive line’s struggles continued. With four returning starters on the line, what was supposed to be a strength for the Bulldogs has surprisingly become a glaring weakness. Hart was consistently under pressure, and was sacked four times, while Penn’s defense was able to penetrate and disrupt rush plays in the backfield.
The sophomore signal caller also had no run game to lean on, as it was nonexistent yet again for the Bulldogs. The team accumulated 15 net rush yards and Payton Award candidate Mike McLeod ’09 finished with just 28 yards on 18 carries.
The coach was also quick to dispel any speculation that McLeod was not 100 percent healthy. There’s only so much the star running back can do against constant penetration from the opposition, Siedlecki said.
“He seemed fine today,” he said. “He said to me he feels really good [after the game].”
The lack of any fluidity on offense allowed Penn to slowly take control of the game. Down 7-0 at the half, the Quakers converted three field goals on three consecutive drives — the last of which came with 4:35 remaining — to build what proved to be an insurmountable 9-7 lead.
The Yale defense fought hard, allowing just 186 Quaker yards and repeatedly kept Penn out of the endzone. But they couldn’t do much more. The Penn offense constantly began drives with solid field position, and as the game went on, the Bulldog defense simply appeared tired.
One such Quaker series began after a trick play went wrong for the Elis. On fourth and one on their own 33-yard line, Yale’s coaching staff called a fake punt play in hopes of keeping the drive going. The direct snap to Rice was bobbled, and the play resulted in a loss of downs. The Quakers then began their series on the Yale 42-yard line, and concluded the drive with Andrew Samson’s second field goal.
The Penn kicker converted three of four attempts, his longest being 31 yards. (Samson missed a 34-yarder at the end of the second quarter.)
Similar to last week, the Bulldogs saw the opposition control the time of possession battle. On Saturday, the difference was almost seven minutes.
As a result of the loss, Yale’s chances at the Ivy League title are now slim to none. Penn and Brown (4-2, 3-0) are two games ahead in the standings, so to capture the league title, the Bulldogs will need to win out and get plenty of help, too.
Having come into the season with high expectations has made the team’s struggles especially hard to swallow for the squad.
“You never want it to turn out the way [this season] has so far,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “But looking forward, I got nothing but positives for this team. We’ve played hard in every game we’ve played in. We’ve shown a lot of heart — we’re just not executing sometimes.”