It is no easy task to stop Yale football’s offense. Just ask Georgetown and Cornell.
Led by third–year starting quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 and a corps of explosive players, the Bulldogs (2–0, 1–0 Ivy) are off to a sizzling start, having scored 37 points in each game.
But Witt and company may finally meet their match on Saturday when the team faces off against No.13/14 Lehigh (3–1, 0–0 Patriot) for its first away game of the season.
The team hopes that a win, which will give the Elis their first 3–0 start since 2007, against a nationally ranked opponent can set the tone for the rest of the season.
But the Lehigh Mountain Hawks’ offense has torched the opposing defense on game days, averaging nearly 500 yards of total offense per game. The high-powered spread attack is spearheaded by quarterback Chris Lum, who has thrown for 16 touchdowns in just four games.
“Lehigh’s offense will definitely be a great challenge for us,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “They have a few guys on offense who have made big plays this year, and it’ll be fun getting to face off against the Patriot League’s best.”
The Elis’ secondary will have its hands full on Saturday against speedy wideouts Ryan Spadola and Jake Drwal, who have emerged as Lum’s go-to targets and caught 10 touchdown receptions from the senior signal caller.
But head coach Tom Williams said that consistently harassing Lum will be the most important aspect of the defensive game plan.
“The pressure is put on the secondary if we don’t put any pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “You can only cover [the receivers] for so long.”
The Bulldogs averaged two sacks a game last season and have yet to take down the opposing passers this season. But a stingy coverage unit, giving up a total of 216 yards on all kickoff and punt returns, has created great field positions for the Yale defenders.
“We’ve got one of the fastest coverage teams that you’ll see,” Haynes said. “The ability to consistently pin the other team below their own 20 goes a long way in helping the defense.”
Despite its offensive firepower, Lehigh is a slow starter. The Mountain Hawks have been forced to come from behind in all four of their contests and allowed their opponents to score first in every game. Against the potent Blue and White offense, Lehigh may quickly find itself in a big hole.
But the Bulldogs may be without one of their best offensive weapons this weekend. Wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 missed most of the second half against Cornell last week due to a pulled hamstring and will be a game-time decision on Saturday.
Smith leads the team with a pair of touchdown receptions and has proven himself to be one of the Football Championship Series’ most dangerous kickoff returners, averaging almost 33 yards each time he gets the ball. Despite Smith’s possible absence, the Bulldogs have no shortage of playmakers.
Deon Randall ’14, filling in after Smith left the game, returned a Cornell kickoff for 49 yards, which helped set up an eventual touchdown run by Witt. Receivers Allen Harris ’13 and Cameron Sandquist ’14 surprised many — including the Big Red defense — last weekend by combining for 125 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“We definitely have a lot of confidence in our offense,” Smith said. “We distribute the ball to so many players; it’s going to be tough for [Lehigh] to key in on one player.”
Lehigh’s secondary features four new starters and has struggled this season against aerial attacks. But the Mountain Hawks also have an aggressive defensive line that has already notched eight sacks.
While he is certain to face heavy blitzes on game day again, Witt will be a tough quarterback to take down, getting sacked just once this season. Despite tight coverage by opposing defensive backs, Witt’s mobility and scrambling often kept the Bulldogs’ drives alive by giving receivers time to break open.
“There is nothing worse for a defense than when it plays perfect coverage but then gets burned by the quarterback’s feet.” Haynes said.
The Elis have also found their stride on the ground after a weak showing in the season opener. Tailback Alex Thomas ’12 averaged more than 10 yards a carry against Cornell and put away the Big Red for good with an electrifying 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, finishing the day with 84 rushing yards.
After missing five games due to injury last year, Mordecai Cargill ’13 has emerged as the Elis’ primary back with 149 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns.
“We have a really balanced offense and that’s what makes us so dangerous,” Smith said.
The Bulldogs have beaten their two opponents by an average of 15 points but Saturday’s game should be the closest game yet. With two evenly matched offenses, the outcome may come down to the kicking game. Problems flared up again last week for the Yale kicking team, which had a field goal and an extra-point attempt blocked. The Bulldogs have little room for such mistakes against Lehigh.
“We’ve said since the beginning of the year that we want to make a statement for what our football team is all about,” Haynes said. “We have the perfect opportunity to come out and show people how good we really are.”
Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa.