FOOTBALL: Elis prepare for toothless Lions

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Photo by Grant Bronsdon.

Riding a three-game losing streak, the football team hopes to cure its ills this Saturday when the winless Columbia Lions come to town.

Though Yale (3–3, 1–2 Ivy) began the year with promise, defeating Colgate, Cornell and Cal Poly in successive weeks, it has been tough sledding as of late for the Elis. The no-huddle offense that looked so dominant earlier in the season has sputtered, yielding at least three turnovers in each game of the losing streak.

“Turnovers keep you from achieving your potential,” Head Coach Tony Reno said.

Giveaways have halted many Bulldog drives in the past three weeks, including two key drives in the fourth quarter last week against Penn. A pair of red zone interceptions thrown by quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 erased any hope Yale had of a comeback.

Reno said that fumbles have been a bigger problem than interceptions. Wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 noted that the Elis realize the importance of improving their ball security.

“The ball is more important than the extra step,” Wallace said.

Columbia (0–6, 0–3 Ivy) enters Saturday’s game with the worst offense and the worst defense by both yardage and points in the Ivy League. The Lions have scored just 7.5 points per game, worst in the Ancient Eight by nearly 15 points. The squad has struggled ever since starting quarterback Brett Nottingham, an offseason transfer from Stanford, suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the first game of the season.

The Bulldog defense has had its own woes lately. In the Elis’ game against No. 9 Fordham, Ram quarterback Michael Nebrich torched the young secondary to the tune of 421 passing yards and four touchdowns.

While Yale limited Penn to just 167 passing yards last week, the Quakers still had a number of big plays that doomed the Elis, especially a pair of 29-yard touchdown passes in the first half.

“We have to continue to grow back there,” Reno said after last Saturday’s game. “[The defensive backs] have a lot of talent … I have a lot of faith in them.”

The Bulldogs have also had troubles the last few games without some of their offensive stalwarts. Wide receiver Chris Smith ’14 has missed the team’s last two games, while starting quarterback Hank Furman ’14 and running back Tyler Varga ’15 both left the Fordham game with injuries and did not play the next week against Penn.

Reno gave few details on the group’s collective status, saying that the team might not know their availability for the Columbia game until after Friday’s practice.

But in the absences of Smith, Furman and Varga, the Bulldogs have found capable replacements. Roberts, a transfer from Clemson, started against Penn and began to frequently target Wallace, who had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown last week. Running back Candler Rich ’17, meanwhile, has 31 carries for 256 and a score while replacing Varga over the past six quarters.

Columbia’s defense may be last in the Ancient Eight, but whether or not Yale can get its starters back, Wallace noted that the Bulldog offense cannot overlook Columbia.

“They do a lot of different coverages. We have to be prepared for that during practice,” Wallace said in an interview with WYBC Radio earlier this week.

Safety Cole Champion ’16 agreed, saying that the Bulldogs have a philosophy for the entire season that involves executing every day of every week.

Saturday’s game kicks off from the Yale Bowl at noon.

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