Yale vs. Cornell: Keys to the Game

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Photo by Brianne Bowen.

GIVE THE BALL TO CHRIS

Wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 led Yale in receptions last season, led the Football Championship Series in kickoff return average and set a Yale record for career kickoff return touchdowns. Maybe he was just warming up.

Smith caught two touchdowns against Georgetown last weekend, and finished with 104 receiving yards on five catches. He almost added two more scores on returns, making the Georgetown coverage unit look foolish on runbacks of 82 and 49 yards in the first half.

Head coach Tom Williams has been praising Smith’s potential since the Virginian arrived on campus two years ago. Smith may only be a junior, but this could be his year. With veteran quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 behind center and a crew of talented wide receivers around him to distract defenses, Smith should have plenty of opportunities to build on his eye-opening performance against Georgetown. All Yale has to do is put the ball in his hands.

WATCH THE BIG PASS

Cornell scored three touchdowns in its season opener against Bucknell last Saturday, and each one came on a pass play of more than 60 yards. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews, last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, took to the air with touchdown passes of 64, 65 and 87 yards to three different receivers.

That performance would be a cause for concern for any secondary, but Yale’s looked particularly vulnerable against Georgetown last weekend. The Hoyas passed early and often, and had three quarterbacks combine for 33 completions on 51 attempts for 268 yards. More importantly, all three Georgetown touchdowns came through the air.

Yale’s secondary was hit harder than the rest of the defense by graduation last year, as it lost both star safety Adam Money ’11 and cornerback Chris Stanley ’11. The Elis need veteran safety Geoff Dunham ’12 and cornerback Drew Baldwin ’12 to lead the young unit against Cornell and keep Mathews off the scoreboard.

WIN IN THE TRENCHES

Yale’s running game struggled to get started against Georgetown last Saturday, in large part because the Hoya defensive line manhandled Yale’s offensive front throughout the first half. But as John Oppenheimer ’14, who started his first college game at center last weekend, and the rest of the Bulldogs got their feet under them, Mordecai Cargill ’13 began seeing daylight up the middle.

The Elis have three very different running backs in Cargill, Alex Thomas ’12 and Deon Randall ’14. Cargill has size and power, Thomas more speed and Randall a shifty quickness that makes him a threat both when he lines up in the backfield and at receiver. But the three need blocking to achieve their potential.

The Eli defensive line also must perform against Cornell. Yale struggled to pressure the Georgetown quarterback last weekend, failing to register a single sack. The Hoyas used that time to pick apart the Yale secondary. Cornell’s Mathews is a threat at quarterback under any circumstances, but he will be even more so if the Yale defensive front cannot make him hurry.

LAST MEETING

Thomas led the way for the Yale offense last year as the Elis ruined Cornell’s homecoming with a 21–7 win. Thomas had 124 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown as Yale broke open a game that had been tied, 7–7, at the half with two third-quarter touchdowns. Witt had a hand in the other two Yale scores. He found Gio Christodoulou ’12 for a 69-yard touchdown in the first quarter, then snuck the ball into the end zone himself from the one-yard line in the third.

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