Due to Ivy League rules — and much to the chagrin of league members — no football team in the Ancient Eight is allowed to participate in the Football Championship Series national playoffs after the regular season. But the Bulldogs still managed to find themselves in a playoff-like situation as their 2008 campaign winds down.
Beginning with last Saturday’s 27-12 home win over Columbia (1-6, 1-3 Ivy), the Elis (4-3, 2-2) are in the midst of a four-game stretch to conclude the season, in which they need to win out to keep their conference championship hopes alive. But standing two games out of first place, even winning out doesn’t guarantee Yale the title: the Bulldogs need the three teams ahead of them — Brown, Harvard and Penn — to stumble down the stretch.
The next challenge will be the team’s toughest as they head to Providence on Saturday to battle first-place Brown (5-2, 4-0) for the 113th meeting between the two schools. The kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m.
“We have an opportunity to knock off the first place team in the league,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “That has been the theme this week.”
With the pressure of a must-win situation, the Bulldogs will be coming with a little more intensity than usual but are trying to treat this crucial game just like any other.
“Well, I can only speak for myself, but yes, I believe we’ll come out with a great sense of intensity and focus,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “Right now we’re really not thinking about an Ivy League title. At this point we are only focused on trying to beat Brown and playing to the best of our capability.”
The Bears — picked to finish third in the league in the preseason media poll — are off to their best league start in history and have already defeated the two teams tied for second in the league standings — Harvard (6-1, 3-1) and Penn (4-3, 3-1). The squad’s two losses have come against Rhode Island (2-8) and Holy Cross (5-3), a team Yale defeated earlier in the season.
The other two common opponents between these schools thus far are Cornell and Penn — both of whom the Bears defeated and the Bulldogs fell to. In last Saturday’s 34-27 victory over the Quakers, Brown was able to put up the most points any team has against the nation’s previously top-ranked scoring defense.
That offense is ranked second in the Ancient Eight in scoring (25.7 points per game) and led by senior quarterback Michael Dougherty. The Florida native leads the league in passing touchdowns (14), is second in passing yards (1,903) and is third in passing efficiency (127.5).
Doughtery’s top two targets — Bobby Sewall and Buddy Farnham —sit atop the conference in various categories. Sewall leads the league in receptions (54), yards (744) and touchdowns (6). Farnham is second in the league in receptions (46) and touchdowns (5), and fourth in yards (607).
This will be the most potent passing attack the Bulldogs have seen since Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph completed 41 of 63 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns against the Elis on Oct. 4.
“Just getting in the throwing lanes [will be key],” Abare said. “I think if we can get in some throwing lanes we’ll have much greater success with slowing these guys down.”
With the passing attack in the forefront, the rushing game isn’t much of a factor for the Bears. Their leading rusher, Dereck Knight, has just 383 yards on the season and two touchdowns. As a result, making Brown one-dimensional, and forcing the Bears to run the ball more than they would like, may be the blueprint to holding the unit down.
For the second consecutive week, Brown will go up against the nation’s top scoring defense. Last week, Penn went into the contest ranked No. 1 allowing 13 ppg, but the Bears were still able to score 34 points.
Heading into this weekend, Yale has the country’s top-ranked scoring defense, surrendering just 13.1 ppg, and is second in the Ancient Eight in total defense (292.7 ypg). Pressure and turnovers have been integral factors in the defense’s success. The Bulldogs are second in the FCS in turnover margin and first in the Ancient Eight in sacks (20).
“I think we, as a defense, are just going in with a mind set to slow down their offense as much as possible,” Abare said. “I don’t know whether it will be high scoring or not — but I do know we’ll be ready to play one of our best games of the year.”
If it does become a shoot-out, it’ll be interesting to see if the Bulldog offense can keep up with the high-powered Bear offense.
After two weeks of struggles to put points on the boards, the Bulldogs “exploded” for 27 in last weekend’s win over Columbia. Tailback Mike McLeod ’09 doubled his touchdown total from three to six and quarterback Brook Hart ’11 was efficient in his second career start, leading an offense that didn’t commit a turnover. Hart will get the start again as usual starter Ryan Fodor ’09 has been limited in practice for the third straight week.
And while Brown has one of the league’s most potent offenses, the team’s defense is in the middle of the pack. Brown is fourth in the conference in scoring defense (21.3 ppg), fifth in total defense (333 ypg) and dead last in passing defense (253.4 ypg).
In order to have success again this weekend, the Elis will need to win the turnover and field position battles. Loss of possession and poor field position will only make it harder for an offense that consistently hasn’t been able to string together effective drives.
“With our defense I always feel like we could score two touchdowns and have an excellent chance at winning,” Hart said. “But regardless, we need to mount drives to either get points or give Brown’s offense a long field to work with.”