Yale Running Game vs. Holy Cross Run Defense
Rob Carr ’05 galloped to his second straight 200-plus yard game last season against the Crusaders. He probably will not repeat that feat this year, but only because Yale has too many other weapons to devote that many carries to Carr. The Bulldogs ran for 288 yards last year against Holy Cross, with the more pocket-prone signal caller Jeff Mroz ’05 running for just two yards. This year’s starting quarterback, captain Alvin Cowan ’04, is averaging almost 56 yards per game this year. The Crusader defense is allowing 185 yards on the ground per game — putting them in the bottom half of rushing defenses in Division I-AA football — and that number will only increase against a Bulldog attack led by Cowan, Carr, and David Knox ’06.
Yale Passing Game vs. Holy Cross Pass Defense
If this were a courtroom, the Crusaders would enter the “no contest” plea. But this is a football field, and so the only recourse left to Holy Cross is to — well — yield a lot of passing yards to a potent Eli attack. The Crusader pass defense is ranked 119 of 121 in I-AA, giving up an average of 302 yards per game. They have yielded 11 passing touchdowns in their first four games en route to allowing over 40 points per game. Yale has not dominated in the air, but the Elis are better than average and have a number of good pass-catchers in hulking tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 and wide receivers P.J. Collins ’04, Ralph Plumb ’05, Ron Benigno ’04 and Chandler Henley ’06. Though Yale only managed 83 yards passing against Cornell, the Big Red is the No. 1-rated passing defense in I-AA. Even if Holy Cross manages to stop Lawrie, Yale is too deep at the receiver spot, and they will spread a questionable Holy Cross secondary dangerously thin.
Holy Cross Running Game vs. Yale Run Defense
Holy Cross has averaged only 116 yards rushing through its first four games; Yale’s Carr alone is averaging 117. Despite losses in the defensive line predicted to leave the Elis vulnerable, Yale has been surprisingly stingy with its rushing defense. Currently, the Bulldogs are in the top quarter of rushing defenses in I-AA. How well they will do against Colgate and Harvard, both of whom are in the top 20 in the nation with over 230 yards per game, remains to be seen; whether or not they can stop Holy Cross is not in much doubt.
Holy Cross Passing Game vs. Yale Pass Defense
Holy Cross’ Ari Confesor is the best wide receiver the Bulldogs have faced thus far; he is arguably the best they will face all season. Confesor is second in I-AA in all-purpose running yards, and in the top 10 in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game. He is among the all-time leaders in Holy Cross history in almost every statistical category that involves receiving, returning punts, or returning kickoffs. In short, he is a fast, big-play guy that could expose a Yale aerial defense that has not looked particularly strong, giving up an average of 234 yards in its first two games. To make matters worse, the Crusaders also boast 6-foot-4-inch No. 2 wide receiver Nick Larsen and No. 3 wideout Sean Gruber, who has come out of nowhere to average over 50 yards receiving thus far.
Edge: Holy Cross
Yale punt returner P.J. Collins should have a good day against an anemic Crusader punt coverage squad, and Knox, the Bulldog kickoff returner, has been consistently good. But it would take something really special to give them the edge against Ari Confesor. Gunner Steve Ehikian ’04 put forth a yeoman’s effort on the punt squad last week, but the Elis still are not a particularly good punting squad.
Edge: Holy Cross
Holy Cross has put up some gaudy offensive numbers en route to being the fourth best passing offense in I-AA, but they do not have a great roster. That means that shutting down Ari Confesor is tantamount to shutting down the entire offense. The Elis held him to under 50 yards receiving last year and prevented any game-breaking returns, and they can do that again. And regardless of how good the Crusader offense is, Yale’s might be even better: the Elis average 41.5 points and 420 yards of total offense to Holy Cross’ 32.5 points and 413 yards. Despite a subpar performance last week, Cowan is fifth in I-AA in passing efficiency. Look for him to rebound from that anomaly and challenge Harvard’s Ryan Fitzpatrick as the nation’s current leading passer.
Yale 41, Holy Cross 20