Last week, Yale built a 24-point halftime lead against struggling Columbia. Then the Elis stopped moving the ball. They committed four turnovers and eked out a three-point victory, just enough to stay in a three-way tie for second place in the Ivy League.
This week, the Bulldogs (5–2, 3–1 Ivy) face Brown, one of the teams with which they are tied in a fight to stay alive in the Ivy League Championship race. They travel to Providence Saturday to face the Bears, (4–3, 3–1) a team that ranks one spot above Columbia in both offense and defense.
Head coach Tom Williams is unapologetic about his team’s struggles last week.
“You don’t get any points for style,” he said.
Despite the Bears’ position near the top of the Ivy League, their offense is reeling. Five weeks ago, first team All-Ivy quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero broke his wrist, knocking him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. The Bears have not been the same team since. With the Ivy League’s top passer behind center, Brown started the season 2–0, including a 29–14 win against Harvard. Since Newhall-Caballero went down, they are 2–3, with one of those wins against last-place Princeton.
Brown received more bad news last week, when backup quarterback Joe Springer was injured late in the second quarter of Brown’s 24–7 loss to Penn (6–1, 4–0). His availability this week will be a game-day decision.
If Springer cannot return to the lineup, the Bears will start sophomore Patrick Donnelly, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 194 yards coming off the bench against Penn. Donnelly also earned a team-high 68 yards on the ground.
“The mobile quarterback is sweeping the nation,” safety Adam Money ’11, who had two fumble recoveries against Columbia, said. “But we’ve played a couple of them recently and done a good job defending.”
Despite Donnelly’s strong performance, Brown could not manage a point on offense against Penn’s strong line.
Even if Donnelly does not get the start, he may give Yale’s special teams unit — which has improved in the past few games after a rocky start to the season — headaches. The young quarterback doubles as a punter, turning any Brown punting situation into a possible fake. Williams has regularly been sending safety Money back to receive punts as a precaution against fakes. Williams is likely to be even more on his guard with Donnelly lining up to kick.
Despite the absence of its top two quarterbacks and struggles against Penn, Brown can threaten on offense.
“They’re dangerous and they know their system,” Wiliams said. “The meat and potatoes are the same.”
The Yale secondary will have its hands full guarding wide receiver Alexander Tounkara, who ranks second in the Ivy League in both receptions and receiving yards per game.
When Brown tries to run the ball, Yale captain Tom McCarthy ’11 and the rest of the Bulldogs’ defensive line will try to stop Brown tailback Mark Kachmer, who is looking to bounce back from his -2 yards on three carries against Penn. Kachmer has been unexceptional taking handoffs this season. He has five touchdowns but has averaged only 57.3 yards per game.
Kachmer, though, has terrorized opposing teams as a returner. He notched Brown’s only score against Penn when he took a kick return back for a touchdown, and leads the Ivy League in kickoff return yards this season. Yale has allowed two punt return touchdowns this season, but has yet to give up a score on a kickoff return.
Yale hopes that it can stop Brown, as it did Columbia in the first half of last week’s game. In that half, McCarthy and defensive end Sean Williams ’11 each forced a fumble and the Yale secondary contained Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett, the most efficient passer in the Ivy League.
The defense will need help from the attack if it is to get those stops. In the first half against Columbia, quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 engineered a series of scoring drives that gave the defense time to rest and adjust. Then the Elis turned the ball over four times in the second half and the defense started to falter.
Against Brown, the offense will look to reduce its turnovers.
“It’s going to be responsibility football,” said Money.
Though Witt leads the Ivy League in passing, his 10 interceptions almost outweigh his 11 touchdown strikes. In the second half against Columbia, he tried to force a number of passes into double coverage. Nonetheless, his passing success worries opposing coaches.
“Witt is just a complete quarterback and he’s done a very good job of sitting in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield,” Brown coach Phil Estes said in a conference call. “Even when he takes a hit he’s able to get the ball off.”
Against Brown — which is tied for the fewest picks in the Ivy League this season — Witt will look to spread the ball out among leading receivers Gio Christodoulou ’11, Jordan Forney ’11, and Chris Smith ’13, who have a combined 1,025 yards among them. Witt will also have the option of looking to some of his standout underclassmen receivers. Allen Harris ’13 has caught a touchdown in each of the past two games and Cameron Sandquist ’14 had two touchdown catches in 19 seconds against Columbia.
Leading the effort against the Bulldogs will be Brown tri-captain and linebacker Andrew Serrano, who shares the Brown lead in tackles with linebacker Steve Peyton. Serrano was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week in Brown’s second game of the season, in which the Bears held Harvard to only 112 yards. But their defense has come back to earth since then, and sits fourth in the Ivy League in yards allowed per game. Yale is third.
The Bulldogs will look to balance their passing attack by giving the ball to running back Alex Thomas ’12, who had a career-high 139 yards on 19 carries against Columbia, including a 42-yard touchdown scamper.
“We have our hands full because we’re facing a team that can run and throw the football,” Estes said.
Thomas will be backed up by Elijah Thomas ’14, since Mordecai Cargill ’13 and Javi Sosa ’13 will both miss this game with injuries.
Beside those two running backs, Yale is healthier than it has been since the beginning of the season, according to Williams. Center Jake Koury ’11 and Witt were practicing on Tuesday for the first time in weeks, and the team is excited to make an impact in their last three games.
“The games you remember are played in November,” Williams said.