FOOTBALL | Smith recharges special teams

Every time Chris Smith ’13 returns a kickoff, he follows lead blocker Wes Moyer ’12. Smith followed Moyer’s blocking all the way to two consecutive kickoff returns for touchdowns against Brown last week. When not racing 80 yards down field at a time, Smith lines up at wide receiver and leads the Bulldogs with 35 receptions. Moyer, a linebacker, earned his first career sack this season. The News sat down with the pair to discuss returns, their chemistry, and Saturday’s contest against Princeton.

Q Yale’s special teams were maligned after some missed kicks early this season. How does it feel to to turn the game around with a special teams performance?

WM We started up 10–0 and then they scored a touchdown. Any time that happens, we want to get a big play. Once we returned it, it was like new energy in the team. Then they had a field goal. But then we returned it again. So that’s kind of a dagger in the heart right there. If you give up two in a row, it’s kind of hard to recover from that; Brown tried, but they couldn’t.

Q What’s the mindset as you wait to receive the ball before the kickoff?

CS We always say touchdown on every play, but sometimes it just doesn’t open up. Lightning’s kind of got to strike for it to work.

Moyer: A kick return is one of the main team aspects of football, because if one guy misses his block, the whole return is done. So to have all 11 guys on the field do their job, to have Chris run, not get touched, and make guys miss, everybody really has to do their jobs.

Q Wes, can you talk about your role as the lead blocker on the play?

WM I’m the cleanup guy. If someone comes off their block, I’m supposed to pick him up. When the hole’s opening up and the safety’s the last guy, and I’m able to lead him through, then that really allows for the super big returns. But Chris is a hell of a returner so he can make a couple guys miss and go down 50 yards, take it all the way each time. It’s a dangerous unit.

Q What kind of communication is going on down there? How do you know which way the two of you are going?

CS He and I talk a lot about [communication]. We always go out before practice and catch a few returns and talk about it. I remember before the Dartmouth game, the kicker in practice kicked a roller to [Moyer]. He picked it up and pitched it back to me and then he said “Hey, if that happens in a game, do you want me to let it go or pitch it to you?” And I was like, “Pitch it.” And it actually ended up happening in a game for the first time all season and it worked out perfectly. He picked it up, pitched it to me, and I got a good return off of it.

Q How about a situation like a squib kick? How do you react when the play can’t go as planned?

WM On a squib kick, we’d like everyone to let it go and either let me field it and pitch it back to Chris, or let Chris field it. Sometimes, it takes crazy hops, but most of the time you can get it, get a good return. I feel like kickoff teams, when they know it’s a squib, they’re not really covering it that hard or running as fast as when it’s in the air, since it’s on the ground and it’ll probably be a shorter kick.

CS It was an advantage after we got those two long returns and they started squibbing it. The squib is a shorter kick since it’s on the ground and stuff. I think Shane ended up jumping on it at the 40-yard line. That’s almost midfield starting out for the offense, and that’s a huge advantage.

Q Chris, you’re not just doing well on the return; you’re leading the team in receptions. What’s the reason for that success?

CS I think we just have an offense with a lot of weapons for Pat Witt to get the ball to. When you have that many weapons, the opponent can’t really double team anybody, and that really opens the field up, and that’s helped me a lot to be open.

WM I’d really hate to be on defense against those guys. You cover everybody, but one guy’s still open, and then you’re done.

Q Wes, you do play defense, if not against Chris. You’re a linebacker with a sack so far this season. Can you talk about the status of that unit?

WM Any time we’re in there, we can cause a three-and-out, we can get a turnover. Maybe [the opponent] gets a few first downs, but no matter what, we don’t give up. If they get to our 10-yard line, we’ll try to stop them, try to block the field goal and we’ll just do whatever we can. We’re coming together as a unit, we’re all just making plays.

Q That success will be tested against Princeton this weekend, with the Ivy League championship on the line. What are you looking forward to against the Tigers?

CS We’re definitely excited. We saw Penn rack up a lot of points [against Princeton], but we can’t overlook them. We have to take each game as it comes. We can’t overlook them and I think we’re going to go in and play as hard as we did against Penn, which was a bigger game. We just have to be ready for it.

WM It’s a dangerous game. Their record’s not so good this year, and they’ve gotten beaten up a little bit. That just means they’re hungry and they’ll come out and trying to end our season. We have to come out with the fire and take it to them on every play and continuously just dominate. That’s what we’re going to try to do.

Q You guys play your two biggest rivalry games of the season in the next two weeks, against Harvard and Princeton. It’s the first time playing those teams for both of you. What are the emotions going to be like?

WM Any time it’s a huge rivalry game, the emotions are running and you have to stay on the even level. You can’t get too up and you can’t get too down. We want to get out there and run the game on both sides of the ball.

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