With all the weapons at football head coach Jack Siedlecki’s disposal this season, it could be a long day for opposing defenses when they line up against the offensive Eli 11. But for it to be a genuinely long day, like an afternoon spent sorting books at SML, the Bulldogs will have to keep their offense on the field. And that means keeping the ball on the ground.
The Bulldog offense that will take the field Saturday at home against Towson starts with Alvin Cowan ’04 and his ability to turn broken plays into positive yardage. When Cowan gets out of the pocket, he is at his most dangerous, and he has a receiving crew that will be able to make adjustments and find seams while Cowan keeps plays alive with his scrambling ability. Most likely, defenses will try to contain Cowan and force him to become a one-dimensional pocket passer. Easier said than done — ask San Diego about Cowan’s three touchdowns on the ground in last year’s opener.
To be successful, the Elis will have to take their shots downfield — not just to keep their counterparts from stacking up against the run but because the Bulldogs have the necessary components of an explosive passing attack. Nate Lawrie ’04 is Cowan’s favorite target. P.J. Collins ’04, Ralph Plumb ’05, Ron Benigno ’04 and Chandler Henley ’06 each have shown the ability to gain separation from the defensive back and should provide match-up headaches for defensive coordinators around the Ancient Eight.
Theoretically, Yale should be supremely capable of a “shock and awe” aerial assault that will have defenses scrambling to stop the big plays. But if the Bulldogs are to win consistently this season, they will do it by avoiding an infatuation with the passing game.
First off, the Elis return the league’s No. 1 rusher from last season in Robert Carr ’05. Against Cornell and Holy Cross, both games that the Elis won, Carr posted consecutive games of 200 yards on the ground.
Two weeks after the victory over the Crusaders, Jeff Mroz ’05 threw 47 passes — or 5 fewer than he had thrown in his first three games combined — in a 7-0 loss to Lehigh. Carr — Yale’s MVP and a first-team All-Ivy back — has shown he can literally carry a team to victory. Throw explosive second-year tailback David Knox ’06 into the mix, and the Bulldogs have two of the league’s most talented backs.
Even Cowan might be better off keeping the ball in his hands when he decides to scramble. Yale need look no further than to its most bitter rival to see the virtue of a quarterback making plays with his feet. Last November in Cambridge, the Bulldogs stifled the Harvard passing attack, leading coach Tim Murphy to bench prolific passer Neil Rose in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The sophomore sub only attempted 12 passes while scrambling 18 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson’s second half comeback. It would behoove the Elis to maintain a run-pass ratio similar to this.
On an Eli squad that graduated five all-Ivy members including four defensive linemen, the best defense may have to be a great offense — at least at the start of the season until the new unit has time to gain experience. Running the ball will keep the opposing offense off the field and allow the Elis to control the clock. The best example of this last season came in the final home game against Princeton. Yale ran the ball 39 times for 152 yards while controlling the ball for nearly 36 minutes in a 7-3 victory. Obviously seven points is a lackluster offensive output, but that kind of ball control greatly enhances any team’s chances for victory.
For those who salivate over the glitz of running multiple five-wide receiver spread packages, know that last year Brown and Dartmouth had two of the top three passing attacks in the league. Both finished 2-5 in the Ancient Eight. League champion Penn, which had the second best passing game, transferred its respect for the run to its defense. The Quakers allowed only 55.8 rushing yards per game — less than half the amount of Princeton’s 113.0 yards per game, which was good for second in the Ivies. The Quakers finished 7-0 in the conference, largely because of its stout defense.
With a veteran offensive line capable of opening holes for the backs and wearing down oncoming rushers, Yale should be careful not to get too caught up with lighting up the scoreboard and instead do what it did the best in the Ivy League last season: run the ball and let Carr and Knox light up opposing defenses.