The Yale secondary is betting on this Sunday’s game.
There is no need to inform the NCAA, but the members of the Elis’ last line of defense have a wager on who will snag the team’s first interception of the season.
“There is an ongoing rivalry amongst the secondary to see who is going to get the first one,” safety Barton Simmons ’04 said. “We are a little anxious for it.”
The secondary is hoping to rectify the situation when Yale (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) hosts Dartmouth (0-2, 0-1) Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Yale Bowl (WYBC-AM 1340) in the first Sunday contest in the 129-year history of Yale football. While they have had a few balls slip through their fingertips, the Bulldogs defensive backs will have ample opportunity to collar an ill-advised pass against the Big Green’s air-it-out offense.
“That is really big surprise — we usually get a lot of interceptions,” said safety Ryan LoProto ’02, who led the team with four interceptions last year. “A lot of people play conservative against us: Dartmouth isn’t going to.”
Riding the strong arm of quarterback Greg Smith, the Big Green is fourth in Division I-AA with 345.5 passing yards per game. Smith — 61 completions in 105 attempts over two games — emerged as the team’s starting quarterback in the middle of last season and is flourishing in Dartmouth’s aerial offense.
“They are not going to run the ball on us, and I don’t think they are going to try. They are going to throw the ball,” LoProto said. “We are drooling. We love it.”
The Elis’ secondary has more than made up for its lack of picks with solid all-around performances. With strong, precise tackling, the Bulldogs have yet to give up a big passing play.
For the secondary to score its first interception, the Eli pass rush will need to pressure Smith into making poor decisions. Defensive end Mark Patterson ’03 had a breakout game last week against Holy Cross with three sacks, and last season’s Ivy League sack-leader Stuart Satullo ’03 will return from injury this week. Satullo will see limited action in his first game of the season.
The defense will need to continue its sharp play both on the line and downfield against a Dartmouth offense known to put a lot of points on the board.
“They are going to test us,” Simmons said. “The quarterback is going to throw downfield and they are really going to test us vertically.”
The Bulldogs passed an early test last week when they showed their mettle in a 23-22 come from behind victory at Holy Cross. In that game, quarterback Peter Lee ’02 marched the Eli offense down the field for two scores in the waning minutes of the game to erase an eight point deficit.
“It was a big steppingstone last week, no doubt about it,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “A game like that certainly matures you as a team.”
Despite the dramatic win, the game exposed weaknesses the Elis need to address. Last week, the Bulldogs managed only 45 yards on the ground, illustrating the need to establish an effective rushing attack.
The backfield has been hit hard by injury, with Jay Schulze ’03 and Pat Bydume ’04, the Elis’ top two backs, going down against Cornell. The two have had non-contact practices this week and should be available as needed Sunday. Fullback James Keppel ’02, who left the Holy Cross game with a hamstring injury, will be in the starting lineup. Robert Carr ’05 will make his second consecutive start at running back.
“We need to establish a running game and make sure we stay focused,” wide receiver Billy Brown ’02 said. “We have to execute to a tee this week to be successful.”
Despite an 0-2 record, the Big Green, picked seventh at the start of the season, has demonstrated it is not to be taken lightly. Dartmouth’s two losses have come by a total of five points.
“We were in a position to win both games, we just didn’t do it,” Dartmouth head coach John Lyons said. “The team is frustrated.”
Against Ivy title favorite Penn last week, Dartmouth lost 21-20 when a blocked extra point attempt in the waning moments of the game prevented the Big Green from knotting the score. It was the second week in a row that the team lost a nail-biter, falling to New Hampshire 42-38 on a last-second touchdown in its first game.
“They played really well against two really good teams,” LoProto said. “They can’t go 0-2 in the league, so their backs are to the wall.”