The Yale football team is healthier than it has been at any point this year.
Quarterback Peter Lee ’02 is back from an ankle injury. Running backs Robert Carr ’05 and Pat Bydume ’04 are ready to let loose. Defensive end Stuart Satullo ’03 is finally100 percent. With a trip to the University of Pennsylvania this Saturday, the Bulldogs could not have picked a better time to be at their healthiest.
The Quakers — last year’s Ivy League champions and this season’s favorites — are regarded as the most talented squad in the league and are looking to avenge the only blemish on a 6-1 Ancient Eight record in 2000: a 27-24 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) will have a full arsenal at their disposal when they try to upset the undefeated Quakers (4-0, 2-0). An ankle injury and the flu sidelined Lee against Fordham, but he will return to the starting lineup against Penn. The senior signal caller will lead the Bulldogs in what amounts to a must-win game if they want to keep their hopes for an Ivy League championship alive.
“They will be gunning for us,” Satullo said. “We will be pumped up — it is the biggest game of the year. We have already lost an Ivy League game. We can’t lose another one.”
Yale promises to run the ball early and often, with Carr, Bydume and Jay Schulze ’03 all healthy in the backfield for the first time since the beginning of the season. The Eli trio offers a talented mix of speed and strength, but so far this year, no team has been able to mount an effective running game against the Quaker defense.
The Penn defensive front is widely regarded as the best in the league. Led by the All-Ivy Galan brothers, Ed and John, the Quakers are second in Division I-AA in rushing defense, yielding only 52 yards on the ground per game. The Bulldogs have gained over 200 yards rushing in each of the last two games, thanks in part to improved play from the offensive line.
“It is certainly the best and most athletic offensive line we have seen this year,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “They are very athletic, very physical.”
After a slow start to the season, the Eli offensive line dominated in both the Fordham and Dartmouth games, providing a strong push up front that allowed the running game to flourish. Winning the battle of the trenches against the Quakers will be a formidable task, but Yale’s front five might be peaking at the right time.
“We have been very effective running the ball the past two games,” offensive lineman Matt Lewis ’03 said. “Their defensive tackles and defensive ends are some of the better ones in the league. It is very important for us to establish the line of scrimmage.”
On the other side of the football, Yale’s defensive line will be expected to step up this week. After recording five sacks over the first two games of the season, the Eli pass rush has not been able to consistently disrupt the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks.
“We haven’t put much pressure on the quarterback,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “The reason why we won the game [against Penn] last year is we sacked them six times.”
One reason for the deficiency in the pass rush has been the absence of Satullo, last year’s Ivy League sacks leader. Satullo missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury and said he is only now getting back into top shape.
“We need to just beat people. I don’t think we have been doing that in the past couple of weeks; I don’t think we have been playing up to our potential,” Satullo said of the Yale defensive line.
Last week, Ram running back Kirwin Watson rushed for 130 yards against Yale’s defense as Eli tacklers let him slip through their hands. On a number of plays, Watson was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, but the Bulldogs failed to bring him down.
“That was one of the worst games we played,” Satullo said. “We can’t afford to do that against [Kris] Ryan.”
Ryan, a first-team All-Ivy running back in 1999, is a focal point of Penn’s balanced offensive attack. After being hampered by injuries last year, which forced him to miss the game against Yale, the senior is back to his sophomore year form, averaging 145 yards per game and accounting for seven Quaker touchdowns. Ryan suffered a bruised knee in Penn’s 35-7 win over Columbia last weekend but said he is healthy for this weekend’s contest.
“Yale always always always plays us tough,” Ryan said. “We are going to try to keep the same kind of balanced attack [we’ve had].”
Complimenting Ryan’s running game is Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman. Last year, with Ryan injured, Penn relied heavily on Hoffman’s arm, and he delivered. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in a campaign that earned him Ivy League Player of the Year honors.
With a healthy Ryan, the Quakers are relying less on Hoffman this year, but the senior from Minnesota is still averaging over 200 yards per game passing and has found the end zone five times in the air and twice on the ground.
Quaker wide receiver Rob Milanese is Hoffman’s favorite target and rounds out what is perhaps the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver trio in the Ivy League.
“You have got to be able to defend everything every down against them,” Siedlecki said.