After a disappointing loss against Lehigh, the Bulldogs have something to prove on the gridiron this weekend. So do their opponents.
The Elis (2–1, 1–0 Ivy) will square off against the visiting Dartmouth Big Green (1–2, 0–1) this Saturday at the Yale Bowl for their second Ivy League match of the season. The two teams fought to a standstill, exchanging the lead four times, in their contest last season in Hanover, N.H. The Bulldogs managed to edge out a 23–20 victory, thanks to a 19-yard field goal by Philippe Panico ’13 that sailed through the goalposts as time expired.
“Dartmouth is a very talented team with a lot of playmakers,” wide receiver Cameron Sandquist ’14 said. “[They] will remember our win against them last year on the last play, so we have to be prepared for their effort.”
The Big Green remains a dangerous opponent for the Elis despite its late game struggles this season. It has allowed the opposing teams to take the lead with less than a minute left in both of its losses.
Last weekend’s loss to two-time defending Ivy champion Penn was especially heartbreaking. The Big Green led by four with 3:57 left on the clock, only to see the Quakers march 89 yards downfield for the game-winning touchdown.
“The biggest challenge for us will be to start fast,” quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 said. “I’m sure they think they should have won the game [against Penn]. They are going to come out angry and give us their best shot.”
The Blue and White defenders will have their hands full against the Ivy League’s best running game, which is averaging 184 yards per game. To slow down the Big Green’s running attack, the Elis need to do something no one has done this season: stop Nick Schwieger.
The senior tailback and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year has rushed for 400 yards and three touchdowns this season. No other player in the Ancient Eight has over 300 yards on the ground. Last season, Schwieger gashed the Eli defense for 151 total yards, including a six-yard touchdown run that gave the Big Green its first lead of the game.
“This is really the first team we play this season that will try to run the football more than they throw,” head coach Tom Williams said. “We are excited to see how good we are against the run.”
While Dartmouth’s running game has thrived, its passing offense ranks dead last in the Ivy League. Through three games, senior quarterback Conner Kempe has completed just 47 percent of his throws and is averaging a paltry 115.7 yards in the air per game.
“If we can stop Schwieger and make them throw, they will be out of their comfort zone and doing something they are not used to do, which will help us get a win,” safety Nick Okano ’14 said.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs are looking to re-establish their rhythm after a disastrous outing last weekend.
“The team’s mentality right now is to redeem ourselves from last week,” guard Gabe Fernandez ’12 said. “We want to show the Ivy League what we are really capable of.”
The Elis scored 37 points in each of their first two contests but managed just a single touchdown against Lehigh. The offense wasted some golden scoring opportunities with five first-half turnovers and was outgunned by the fast-paced Mountain Hawks attack in the second half.
The Bulldogs’ redemption will have to start along the offensive line, which gave up four sacks against Lehigh. Faced with constant pressure, Witt had the worst performance of his season, completing 12 passes on 31 attempts along with one touchdown and two interceptions.
“The protection in the Lehigh game was not the offense’s best,” left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 said. “There were far too many communication and targeting issues. We need to maintain our focus and not let the defense dictate how we play on offense.”
The passing game should receive a boost this weekend with the return of Chris Smith ’13, who missed the last game with a hamstring injury. Smith should also pose significant problems for Dartmouth’s special team unit. The junior receiver averages 32.7 yards per kickoff return, including an 82-yarder against Georgetown in the season opener.
However, Dartmouth currently boasts the third-ranked pass defense in the Ivy League, giving up just 178.7 yards per game through the air. But that number may be skewed since teams have found success on the ground against the Big Green, gaining 176 yards a game.
The Elis should be able to exploit the weakness in Dartmouth’s defensive scheme with two dynamic running backs, Alex Thomas ’12 and Mordecai Cargill ’13. The duo is averaging a productive 5.1 yards per carry this season.
“[The Dartmouth defense] does give up a lot of yards but they don’t give up a lot of points,” Thomas said. “We need to run and pass the ball well, and we think we will able to do that.” Saturday’s match will be the 95th meeting between the two teams. The Elis lead the all-time series 52—36—6 and have won the last eight consecutive contests.