After a dominating 35-7 rout of Columbia last Saturday, the revived Bulldogs are eagerly awaiting the chance to pound on Brown in Providence, R.I.
“We have to play Brown the way we played last weekend,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We have to keep them in front of us, and not give up the big yardage and make them earn it.”
Yale has more than enough momentum from last week’s victory heading into this weekend to make things difficult for Brown. After being picked to finish third in the Ivy League’s preseason polls, the Bears have had a disastrous fall full of injuries that have kept captain and linebacker Andrew Gallagher out for the season and All-Ivy safety Hunter Young off the field since Oct. 19.
Brown has also been hampered by inconsistent performances from quarterbacks Kyle Slager and Nathan Poole. The two have thrown a combined 14 interceptions in seven games.
“We’re just struggling so badly on offense that we are having trouble putting anything together,” Brown head coach Phil Estes said. “We’ve got two quarterbacks that lack experience. We’ve got to get the guy who’s pulling the trigger to make better reads.”
Despite Brown’s problems, the Bears have one of the most deadly weapons in the Ivy League — All-American wide receiver Chas Gessner. In Brown’s loss to the University of Rhode Island Oct. 5, Gessner hauled in 24 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, tying the NCAA I-AA record for most catches in a game, first set by NFL great Jerry Rice. Gessner currently leads all I-AA receivers in receptions per game and is fifth in receiving yards per game with 175.
Gessner is a candidate for the 2002 Payton Award which is awarded by The Sports Network to the top offensive player in the nation.
“[Gessner is] is definitely one of their players that we have to be aware of,” Yale free safety Barton Simmons ’04 said. “[The Pennsylvania defense] doubled him [Gessner] a little bit and we may try to double him a little bit on Saturday. We’ve got to get an awareness of what kind of routes they like to run and where they’d like to throw the ball.”
But not even Gessner has been able to escape the injury bug. For the past month, Gessner has been playing with a dislocated pinkie which he suffered during pre-game warm-ups against Fordham Oct. 12. Last week, the the University of Pennsylvania defense held Gessner to just nine catches for 79 yards.
Even with Brown’s troubles in the pocket, Yale may still have a difficult time handling the Bears’ open offensive style that includes a number of trick plays. The Bulldogs have had trouble handling such ‘gimmick plays’ in the past.
Two weeks ago in the second quarter of its game against Pennsylvania, a Quaker receiver took a lateral from the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage and then passed the ball for a 44-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Pennsylvania lead.
“We’re going to go into the game aware that [Brown] will try to do something like [Penn’s gimmick play],” Simmons said. “We in the secondary have to go in with the mindset that [Brown] will want to throw those gimmick plays at us.”
On a positive note for Yale, Brown’s defense has only managed 10 sacks in seven games. That means quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 will have more time in the pocket to go to the air and possibly repeat his performance from last week when he completed 20 of 26 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns.
“There’s no question that [Mroz has] been forced fed the whole deal as the starter,” Siedlecki said. “He’s been handling it all very well. Last week, he was a bigger part of our game plan and he made good decisions on almost every play.”
If the Bulldogs triumph in Providence this weekend, their win will have the added sweetness of revenge. Yale has not defeated Brown since 1998. Despite Brown’s record, the Elis are not taking the Bears lightly.
“Although they’re a 0-7 team, guys on the team feel that they could easily have been a 7-0 team,” Mroz said. “We haven’t beaten them in 3 years. And they’re going to come out and try to make that four years.”