Coming into its first Ivy League game against Cornell at 1–0 is a familiar feeling for Yale football, but on Saturday the 2014 Bulldogs will march into the Yale Bowl with a burning memory, a believer’s mindset and a bitter taste in their mouths.
At 12 p.m., the Elis will kick off against the Big Red in the Yale Bowl for the 76th time in history, and Yale’s successful running game will combat Cornell’s passing prowess. Regardless of the squads’ diverse styles of play, the team that comes out on top of this year’s matchup will be the one that leaves it all out on the field. And like the Bulldogs, the Big Red has a reputation for playing a hard-nosed game, according to head coach Tony Reno.
“Cornell plays ridiculously hard,” Reno said.
While the Bulldog offensive line is working to create holes for Yale’s rushing game, the Big Red has been busy giving 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year quarterback Jeff Mathews time to throw the ball.
Mathews took advantage of great protection to throw 285 passing yards for the Big Red against Bucknell last week while Hank Furman ’14 ran in three touchdowns to accompany Tyler Varga’s ’15 236 rushing yards against Colgate.
While it may seem to the casual fan that Varga breaks off his pounding runs with ease, left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 knows that the running back earns every yard.
“[Varga] is a tough guy to bring down,” offensive lineman Gavin said. “He works harder than most people think.”
At first glance, Yale appears to be driven by its ground game, but the Bulldog attack is actually fairly balanced: Three quarterbacks threw for 210 passing yards, and running plays contributed another 327 yards to the Bulldog offensive totals. By contrast, Cornell features Mathews in a passing offense that generated 285 of Cornell’s 302 total offensive yards last week.
Reno said that Furman will start this weekend if he is healthy enough to play and that the senior’s running game was a major factor in the decision.
“[Furman] is a better runner than must people give him credit for,” Reno said. “I think Hank has earned the opportunity to play more.”
The Bulldogs know Matthews will be throwing the ball, so they hope to contain the rest of the Cornell attack by taking control of the pace of the game. Between tough defense and the no-huddle offense, the Elis know they can play the game at the pace they want.
“If we can stop the run or control the run, it makes it easier to control the pace,” said defensive end Dylan Drake ’14, who earned Ivy League Player of the Week honors for his performance at Colgate last week.
Reno’s no-huddle strategy this season compliments the team’s forceful running game and allows the Elis to set the pace, punishing their opponents with quick run after quick run while advancing up the field.
“We want to control the tempo of the game,” Gavin said.
On the other side of the ball, both teams display similar defensive prowess. Last weekend the Big Red forced and recovered five fumbles against Bucknell while at Colgate, the Eli defense forced and recovered two fumbles, including a recovery by Beau Palin ’14 on Yale’s four-yard line.
The Bulldogs ran a total of 86 plays with an average gain of 6.2 yards per play last week. The Big Red ran 76 plays, gaining 4.3 yards per play on average.