Saturday’s 34-14 loss to Princeton highlighted one of the major differences between this year’s football squad and those of previous seasons — turnover margin.
Last year’s Elis finished second in the nation and tops in the Ancient Eight in their ratio of takeaways to giveaways. In 2000, Yale forced 30 turnovers while only giving away 11. But this season, head coach Jack Siedlecki’s team found itself ranked 28th nationally in that statistic heading into their contest against Princeton. Saturday’s game saw the Bulldogs turn the ball over four times, while not managing to steal the pigskin from the Tigers once.
As a result, the Elis now find themselves in the red regarding turnovers, having created 15 and given up 16 through eight games. Yale dropped to 66th out of the 123 teams in Division I-AA, and fifth in the Ivy League in turnover margin.
Even before the Princeton game, Siedlecki was well aware of his team’s shortcomings in the takeaway-giveaway statistics.
“We haven’t been turning people over as much,” Siedlecki said. “We are still pretty good, but are not where we need to be.”
Those statements rang resoundingly true on Saturday, as the Tigers converted three of senior quarterback T.J. Hyland’s interceptions into points, scoring a touchdown and two field goals as a direct result of the picks. His four interceptions were returned a total of 124 yards. The first interception, which came while the Bulldogs enjoyed a 14-0 lead proved especially costly, as it awakened a sleeping Tiger offense. The Tigers marched 68 yards on six plays to find the end zone after that play.
“Turnovers proved to be a major difference in the game,” Princeton head coach Roger Hughes said.
Turnovers have also proved to be a major difference in the Bulldogs’ season.
Hyland has thrown nine interceptions in 82 attempts and three games this season, while Peter Lee ’02 — sidelined due to a nagging ankle injury — has only thrown one in five starts and had gone 218 pass attempts without being picked off dating back to last season. But, as the Bulldogs season has gone, even Lee’s pick, which came late in the first half against Columbia, was costly, as the Lions returned it for a touchdown.
The offense has not been the sole culprit, though, as on several occasions Yale defensive backs have come close to intercepting opposing passers, dropping several of them and falling victim to bad luck on others.
“The turnover margin is one of the measurable things you can look at that explains our record,” Siedlecki said.
Hyland’s fourth interception of the day had no meaning in the game, coming on the final Hail Mary play as time expired. But the interception, on a symbolic level, was representative of Yale’s season — rather than catching a break and having a Bulldog come down with it, the ball landed in the claws of a Tiger.