Yale quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 is making touchdown dives a habit this season, with a one-yard sneak in each of Yale’s two games so far. But while Witt may get the ball and the headlines, the offensive line provides the push up front to make it possible.
The quarterback sneak is just one example of the importance of the line, which Witt, who leads the Ivy League in passing, is quick to credit for allowing him to feel comfortable in the pocket and giving him time to survey passing options on every down.
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The line has been equally effective opening holes for the run. Running back Alex Thomas ’12, who leads the Ivy League in rushing, plays down his own role in putting up such gaudy statistics.
“The offensive line’s been picking up everything great,” he said. “They’re playing the way they’re supposed to and making my job easy.”
The numbers back Witt and Thomas up. Last year, Yale allowed an Ivy League-worst 3.2 sacks per game and had the league’s fifth best offense. This year, the Bulldogs have allowed just one sack in two games, and their average of 493 yards per game is tops in the Ivy League and second among Football Championship Subdivision schools.
According to offensive line coach Michael Preston and the starters on the line, that improved play is the result of continuity and cohesion on the unit.
“When everyone comes together and everyone plays as a unit, the entire team comes together and you feel better at the end of a game,” said right tackle Wes Gavin ’14.
Last year, the line had only one starter with prior varsity experience. The players had to learn a new system in a matter of weeks because of the new coaching staff, and the starting front changed each game until the end of the season.
This year, however, a core of three experienced starters anchors the line, and the depth chart is established.
The most experienced of those veterans is center Jake Koury ’11. Koury, who has played center since the seventh grade, won the starting job last year and has vital experience picking up defensive alignments and quarterbacking the line.
“[Koury] understands defenses, he understands angles.” Preston said. “He’s the anchor, he’s the wrecker. He makes sure we understand where we’re going and why we have to go there.”
Returning with Koury are left tackle Alex Golubiewski ’11, and right guard Gabriel Fernandez ’11.
Golubiewski started five games last year, even though injuries slowed him down at times. But he has stormed back this season, which Preston attributed to his health and better conditioning, and won the starting job late in preseason.
Golubiewski plays down his achievements as a lineman and a veteran leader.
“I just go out and do what’s expected of me,” the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder said. “I’m not a rah-rah, pump-up speech kind of guy.”
Fernandez, who transferred from UCLA after his freshman season, said he is equally happy to let his play speak for itself. He earned a start only three games into last season, his first at Yale. Fernandez also lends some versatility to the line — he has played center, left guard and right guard in a Bulldog uniform.
The veterans are joined by left guard Colin Kruger ’12, who spent the past two years playing on the junior varsity. Kruger has adeptly negotiated the transition to the more powerful game.
“Krugs has always had the power and athleticism, he was just missing some of the mental aspects, such as understanding schemes and just having a killer instinct,” said Golubiewski. “Now that he’s cleaned those areas up and plays with anger, he’s absolutely vicious.”
The youngest member of the unit is Wes Gavin ’14, who took over at right tackle one drive into the season. Despite his inexperience at the collegiate level, he has immediately made his 6-foot-5, 275-pound presence felt. Preston attributed that success to Gavin’s off-season workout program.
Strength and size are enormously important on the offensive line, and Preston explained each player’s improvement by noting his conditioning. But the mental game is also crucial.
Protecting the quarterback is one of the most thankless jobs in football. The quarterback gets the glory if he is successful, and the line gets the blame if he is hit. A good game for an offensive lineman is one in which he keeps his defender off the stat sheet, preventing the defender from registering any sacks or tackles.
“You get your glory through other people,” said Gavin. “So when we cover our assignments and see someone break out on a 27-yard run, that’s where we’re happy.”
The battle in the trenches is won in the details: Extra time studying opponents on film, the ability to read a defender’s strategy in his eyes, and the familiarity with your teammates that lets you know automatically where they will be. The men in blue seem to be succeeding in every regard so far. But they will have a tough test against Albany (1–2) next week.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Koury said. “I think we’re excited, we’re coming in on a strong note and we’re excited for the challenge. We’re going to keep watching film, keep doing what we’ve been doing.”