After a tough road loss to Dartmouth, the Yale football team takes on perhaps its toughest foe of the season tomorrow, playing host to the No. 8 Fordham Rams.
The Bulldogs (3–1, 1–1 Ivy) take a one week respite from Ivy League play, but consistent with his manner all year, head coach Tony Reno has remained focused on Fordham (7-0, 2-0 Patriot) all week—and has made sure that the rest of his team has done so as well.
“I’m not concerned about anything more than Fordham right now,” Reno said after the Dartmouth game. “I’m the reason [the players] don’t think about anything further than today,” he added in an interview on Tuesday.
Last week’s game against the Big Green was a tough loss to swallow.
Despite taking a seven-point lead in the third quarter, the Bulldogs were unable to hold on to the victory, letting Dartmouth halfback Dominick Pierre run roughshod over the Eli defense to the tune of 167 yards.
“Dartmouth had great field position in the second half, and [they had] possession for more than 20 minutes,” Reno said. “That’s a controllable area for the team.”
The Bulldog defense has been stellar thus far. The Elis rank first in the Ivy League in scoring defense, allowing just 18.8 points per game. Yale is also holding its opponents below 200 passing yards per game.
This week, however, Yale may face the best quarterback they will see all year: Fordham’s Michael Nebrich, who leads the FCS with a 74.2 percent completion percentage. Nebrich has also rushed for 393 yards this year.
“We have a bend but don’t break mentality,” defensive lineman Jeff Schmittgens ’15 said. “We’re still trying to put a complete game together.”
The Fordham offense, which averages 40 points a game, is also one of the most formidable units that the Bulldogs will face this season. The Rams have averaged nearly 80 plays per game.
But Yale’s quick-moving offense may bode well for the defense’s chances.
“We’re always going up against our fast-paced offense in practice,” Schmittgens said. “Our young guys are making an impact.”
One big component of Yale’s team this year has been the rushing attack, spearheaded by running back Tyler Varga ’15. Varga has averaged 128 yards per game, ranking seventh in the FCS.
But the real challenge for the Bulldogs this week will be passing the ball against the stout Fordham defense. The Rams have allowed just 178.3 passing yards per game en route to their best start since 1930.
It will be crucial for Yale’s no-huddle offense to put itself in more manageable third down situations. The Elis converted just seven of 17 third down attempts last week.
“The plays we made in the first three week … we just didn’t make them [against Dartmouth],” Reno said. “We lost the turnover battle and didn’t do great on first down.”
A solid team atmosphere, led by captain Beau Palin ’14, has been an instrumental part of the team’s success.
Schmittgens described Palin as the hardest worker on the team, and Reno called the squad the tightest team he has been around.
“Everyone’s gotta pull an oar on the boat,” Reno said.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon at the Yale Bowl.