The sun was setting on a cold fall afternoon as the lights illuminated the Yale practice field. Tuesday’s practice should have ended 15 minutes earlier, but cries of “Convert in the red zone! Get in the end zone!” split the air and the Bulldogs toiled on. The Elis are hoping that their added focus on end zone in practice will translate into more points on the board this Saturday.
Yale (1–4, 0–2 Ivy) looks to turn the tide on its scoring woes tomorrow and earn a victory against Penn (2–3, 2–0 Ivy) at home. Head coach Tony Reno stated that turnovers and missed opportunities have plagued the Bulldogs during their current four-game losing streak.
“The pieces we need … to win are turnovers and to win in the red zone,” Reno said. “For the second week in a row we didn’t win in the red zone [and] it’s pretty evident.”
Reno added that the Bulldogs are calling the same plays in the red zone that they would anywhere else on the field but that the execution has not been as successful. The Elis have scored touchdowns on just 39 percent of their red zone opportunities this season.
One reason for Yale’s scoring struggles has been turnovers. The 16 Bulldog turnovers are the most in the Ivy League. Quarterback Eric Williams ’16, the only starting freshman signal caller in the Ancient Eight, leads the league with 12 interceptions thrown.
When the Bulldogs have held onto the ball, they have shown that they are capable of driving down the field. Despite averaging just 15.6 points per game this year, the Elis have gained an average of 387.2 yards per game on offense.
Yale has been getting closer to its opponents each week during its current slide. The Bulldogs fell by 20 to Dartmouth two weeks ago but only by 10 last week against Lafayette.
Tight end Michael Leunen ’14 credited the experience Williams has been gaining for Yale’s offensive improvements.
“It’s just Eric being more comfortable in the offense,” Leunen said. “We kind of threw him in there a little bit with there only being four weeks of practice. But now he’s got five games under his belt.”
Williams is not the only member of the Bulldogs working to gain experience. Nine Yale starters are underclassmen this year. The two-deep depth chart has a total of 20 underclassmen listed on offense and defense.
Additionally, just two of last year’s defensive starters returned this season. Defensive back Kurt Stottlemyer ’13 stated that the experience the young team is currently gaining will eventually pay off.
“[Winning] comes with experience,” Stottlemyer said. “We’re getting better. We’ve just got to learn how to win.”
Tomorrow the Bulldogs will face an experienced Penn team led by senior quarterback Billy Ragone. He has been a three-year starter for the Quakers, scoring 40 total touchdowns over his career.
The Quakers have already undergone several tests on the field this season thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule. Penn lost to Lafayette as well as Colonial Athletic Association powerhouses William & Mary and Villanova, but Reno said that the lessons the Quakers learned in those contests will help them in Ivy play.
“They played a great non-league schedule,” Reno said. “It was definitely the toughest [of any Ivy League team].”
Last year the Bulldogs led Penn 20–10 heading into the final quarter at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, but the Quakers stormed back to win 37–25. Stottlemyer said that last year’s defeat was “one of the worst losses I’ve had to swallow.”
Stottlemyer and the Bulldogs will have their chance at redemption tomorrow when the game kicks off at noon in the Yale Bowl.
Veterans will be honored at the Yale Bowl tomorrow as a part of Heroes’ Day. Free tickets will be available for current and former members of the armed forces and first responders.