The football team’s rewritten record book speaks for itself.
Over the first two games, Yale scored 99 points and accumulated 1,175 yards. The Bulldogs lead Division I-AA in rushing (375.0), total offense (587.5), and scoring (49.5) per game. And two Yale players have won back-to-back Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week awards — first Alvin Cowan ’04 and then Robert Carr ’05.
But for Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki, the numbers are just background noise.
“The numbers are great but somewhat meaningless after two games,” Siedlecki said. “We play to win, not to create statistics, and our players know that.”
Yet the numbers are staggering. Not since 1889 when the Bulldogs opened the season with 101 points has the Yale averaged over 49.5 points in the first two games. The last time Yale scored over 50 points on the road was in 1905 when the Bulldogs blanked Columbia 53-0.
If the Elis want to return to the record books this weekend, they must contend with Holy Cross (2-2, 1-1 Patriot League), whom they narrowly defeated 23-22 last year.
Not easily bested by the Bulldogs, the Crusaders come to New Haven Saturday with some numbers of their own. Holy Cross is fourth in Division I-AA in kick return yardage (28.28) and second in punt return yardage (24.60) per game. Wide receiver Ari Confesor currently leads the Division I-AA in all-purpose yards (233.0), punt return yardage (24.00), and is third in kickoff return yardage (35.75) per game.
The Bulldogs must answer the Crusaders’ special teams if they want to continue their tear. In their first four games, Holy Cross racked up 246 yards on punt returns and 509 yards on kickoff returns. Holy Cross place-kicker Chris Vella has converted 8 of 9 field goal attempts and is fourth in Division I-AA in field goals made. In their game against Harvard two weekends ago, three of Holy Cross’ four scores came from kick plays.
“They’ve been unbelievably productive in their special teams,” Siedlecki said. “That’s a big element of the game that doesn’t show in the statistics.”
Special teams will not be Yale’s only concern this weekend. Although Holy Cross had a lopsided loss last week to Towson, the Crusaders had two big wins in their first two games: the first a 30-21 defeat of Division I-A Army and the second a 41-13 rout of Georgetown.
Senior quarterback Brian Hall leads the Crusaders on offense. Hall threw 20 touchdown passes and racked up 1,806 aerial yards last season. On defense, Holy Cross looks to linebacker David Dugan, a First-Team All-Patriot League selection last year and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season.
With starting quarterback Cowan out four to six weeks with a leg injury, Yale will need a strong performance from backup quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 this weekend. Mroz entered the Cornell game last Saturday during Yale’s opening drive and had a productive first showing. He completed nine of 13 passes for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver P.J. Collins ’04 and a fake extra-point conversion.
Mroz shares Siedlecki’s indifference toward statistics.
“I don’t care if I throw the ball 40 times or if I throw the ball four times,” Mroz said. “I care if we win the game.”
Another area of uncertainty for the Bulldogs is the relatively inexperienced secondary. To shore up the cracks, Siedlecki has worked hard with the secondary all week to make the necessary adjustments for Saturday’s game.
“We’re really deep in the secondary, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can make the plays,” free safety Barton Simmons ’04 said. “We’re going to be tested more than we’ve been tested in the last two games, but we like that. We’re just excited to get the chance to see some action back there.”
The size and strength of Holy Cross’s defensive line and the team’s defensive style both center on stopping long passes. Against such a combination, the Bulldogs need to maintain a solid rushing attack. In last year’s 23-22 nail-biting win over the Crusaders, the Bulldogs only managed 45 rushing yards.
If the Elis don’t want a replay of last year’s game, they need a similar performance from tailback Carr, who broke Yale’s single-game rushing yard record with 235 yards last week.
“Holy Cross in particular is a team we have not run the ball well in the past couple of years,” running back Pat Bydume ’04 said. “It will be very important for us to show Holy Cross that we’re a much different team than we have been in the past couple of years. It will also be important for us to prove to ourselves that we can run the ball well against anyone.”
Although Holy Cross will be a much tougher opponent than either San Diego or Cornell, the Elis remain confident they can build upon the momentum from the first two games.
“We’ve played two subpar teams now and we have to go out thinking we’re 0-0,” Simmons said. “[Holy Cross has] won some big games and proven they can play. Each week we’ve got to go out and prove our point — that we are more than the bottom tier where some people have put us.”