The Yale football team starts a new season Saturday — rivalry season.
The two-week season within the season concludes with Harvard’s highly anticipated visit to the Yale Bowl for The Game next weekend, but begins this weekend with Yale’s away contest against the Bulldogs’ other archrival, Princeton. Although the Bulldogs (4–4, 2–3 Ivy) and the Tigers (2–6, 1–4) are out of the Ivy League title race, Yale head coach Tom Williams said both teams still have pride on the line in Saturday’s game.
“Guys still want to win football games, even though the Ivy League championship may be out of our reach at this point,” Williams said.
Last week, a usually consistent Eli defense had trouble against Brown — the Bears gained almost 500 total yards in the Bulldogs’ 35–21 loss. Williams said that in order for Yale to win its fifth game this season — and fourth on the road — the Eli defense must improve.
“What we tried to do defensively was too much,” he said. “Sometimes when you try to make another play, it opens up seams. And if you ask our guys individually, I think … they would [each] tell you that it was not our best effort. We’ve got to get those things fixed.”
While on one side of the football the Bulldogs are trying to make big changes, on the other side, Yale is hoping its offense’s ability to score points will continue.
In the first six games of the season, the Elis averaged fewer than 12 points per game. But in the past two weeks the Bulldogs have averaged 22 points per game. In fact, in the past five quarters of play, the Elis have scored more points than they had in the previous 13 quarters.
“We’ve really developed that mentality [of having high expectations],” wide receiver Peter Balsam ’11 said. “You can really sense the hunger on the offensive side of the ball.”
Williams said he is confident the offense’s recent production will continue tomorrow.
“The coverages are what they are, and I think we match up well with them personnel-wise, so we have to go back and build off of our confidence,” he said.
Coming off a 42-7 loss last weekend at Penn, the Tigers have so far had a disappointing season and are tied for last place in the conference.
The Quakers held Princeton to 25 rushing yards and forced three turnovers last week. The Tigers are ranked last in the conference in total offense and sixth in total defense, but Williams emphasized that defeating the Tigers will not be an easy task.
“Offensively, they run some similar schemes to what we’ve seen the past couple weeks,” he said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for our defense to go back to what we’ve been doing — getting off the field after third downs and keeping people out of the end zone.”
It is also going to be hard for the Elis to improve on the defensive performance they had last year against the Tigers, who were shutout by the Bulldogs for the first time in 71 years.
All season long, Yale has been hampered by injuries, including the losses of strong safety Larry Abare ’10 and wide receivers and kick/punt returners Gio Christodoulou ’11 and Chris Smith ’12. None of these injured players will play in tomorrow’s game, but the Bulldogs are do not expect to have to add cornerback and returner Adam Money ’11 to that list. Money appeared to have injured his arm while trying to return a punt last week, but Williams said it was just a stinger and that Money is back to full health.
Saturday’s contest will be Williams’ first rivalry game as the head coach of the Bulldogs.
“I’m new to the [tradition],” Williams said. “But I understand it, and I embrace it and look forward to participating in my first [Princeton] game.”
Kickoff for the 132nd meeting between the Elis and the Tigers — the second-longest rivalry in college football — is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. It can be watched on YES and heard on WELI (AM-960, 960weli.com) and WYBC (AM-1340, wybc.com).