Coming off a disappointing 20–27 loss to Penn, the Yale Bulldogs will host Columbia in the Yale Bowl on Saturday. Columbia is 3–3 on the season, with a 1–2 conference record, while the Bulldogs are 4–2 with a 2–1 Ivy League record.
Establish a ground game
Even if Patrick Witt is the Ivy League leader in total offense, he can’t win the game by himself. The past four Yale opponents have relied on stacking as many defenders near the line of scrimmage as possible in an effort to neutralize the threat Alex Thomas brings to the game. As a result, while the Bulldogs’ passing attack has remained consistent, the running game has been stifled, and the Elis has lost two games in the process. It’s up to the offensive line to open up holes for the running backs in order to revive the running game; Since the Cornell game, Yale has rushed for more than 100 yards only once, and with the exception of the Fordham game, it has cost them dearly. Thomas’ average has dropped to 60 yards per game, and with the Penn loss, the Bulldogs are no longer in control if the Ivy League title. But Thomas and Sosa may have their best chance in a while to get the running game going again on Saturday, as Columbia ranks sixth in the Ivy League in rushing defense, currently allowing an average of 161 rushing yards per game.
Disciplined play on the edge
While the battle in the trenches is crucial in any matchup on the gridiron, the defensive line’s play at the Bowl this weekend will be particularly important against a dual Columbia running threat. The Lions’ sophomore quarterback Sean Brackett leads Columbia in rushing, with 328 total yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and he has scored twice with a season-long run of 25 yards. The Lions’ Nick Gerst follows close behind Brackett with 279 total yards and 5.8 yards per carry. Blake Wayne of the Fordham Rams was the last mobile quarterback the Yale defense faced; in that contest, Wayne, who was averaging 62.7 yards rushing per game ran for 54 yards in a losing effort. McCarthy Jake Stoller ’12, and Reed Spiller ’12 all had sacks on the Rams’ quarterback. If defensive ends Sean Williams ’11 and McCarthy can contain the edges, and force Brackett to stay in the pocket, the defense should be able to control the Lions’ offensive game. McCarthy and Williams have combined for three sacks on the season, and they have to be prepared to handle the Brackett-Gerst threat on Saturday.
Hold on to the ball
Undisciplined teams usually find ways to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Even if the Yale offense dominates Columbia on Saturday, turning the ball over more than once could prove fatal for the Bulldogs. Columbia leads the Ivy League in turnover margin at +7. Yale is second on that list with a +1 turnover magin. The Lions earned that spot after forcing three fumbles against Dartmouth last week, while Yale dropped in the rankings after Witt threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap against Penn. Not only do turnovers take possessions away from the offense, they also breathe new life into a team that could otherwise be losing ground. If the Bulldogs can win the turnover battle and stay disciplined on Saturday, they could find themselves back in the hunt for the Ivy League title.
Yale leads the series against Columbia 66–18–12. During the 2009 season, Yale beat Columbia on the road 23–22 after Witt led the Bulldogs to a 13-point comeback in the last six minutes of the game, including a 10-yard pass to tight end A.J. Haase ’10.