Hanover, N.H., has consistently reminded the Yale football team of the meaning of home-field advantage.
This weekend, the Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1 Ivy) take on Dartmouth (0-3, 0-1 Ivy) at Memorial Field in Hanover, where the Big Green has won six out of the last seven matchups and 10 of the last 13 overall. Although the Big Green’s record puts them at the bottom of the Ivy barrel, this is a contest in which both teams are hoping to prove themselves in the Ancient Eight. A key for the Elis this weekend will be to play with the same level of team-wide coordination that gave them the win last weekend against Colgate.
Defensive tackle Andrew Ralph ’06 said the team believes in itself right now.
“It showed last weekend that we have confidence in ourselves,” Ralph said. “With the upset, it gets stronger and hopefully continues [at Dartmouth].”
Ralph and the other defensive linemen should play a crucial role this weekend because of the Big Green’s offensive style. Dartmouth signal-caller Charles Rittgers leads the league in average passing per game. Rittgers has thrown for 806 total yards and four touchdowns on 77-for-143 passing. According to Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki, Rittgers likes to throw the ball as soon as it is snapped to him and uses a lot of short passes and screens. Because of that, it will be harder for the Bulldogs to sack the quarterback. That said, though, the Elis still want to put a lot of pressure on the passer, Ralph said.
“When you have a quick passer, you want to get a hand up in his face,” Ralph said. “We want an interception by the defensive line returned for a touchdown.”
Turnovers like this are something that the Big Green’s opponents have exploited thus far. Last weekend, the University of Pennsylvania picked off Rittgers three times for 96 yards. Dartmouth head coach John Lyons said interceptions are hurting the Big Green a great deal because they have forced few turnovers in return.
Dartmouth’s schedule has been tough — in addition to facing the reigning-champion Quakers, the Big Green have played Div. I-AA No. 9 New Hampshire and No. 20 Colgate, whom the Elis beat 31-28 Oct. 2. However, Dartmouth has recovered from poor starts before. Despite going 0-4 in their first four games last year, Dartmouth went 5-1 in its next six games to tie for second in the Ancient Eight.
“Our playing schedule the past couple of years has been difficult,” Lyons said. “We have to put the Penn game behind us, move onto Yale. They are going to present challenges to us.”
One challenge for the Big Green this weekend will be Eli tailback Rob Carr ’05, who was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the win over Colgate. As of this week, Carr’s 588 all-purpose and 382 rushing yards place him first and third respectively in the Ancient Eight.
The Bulldogs also hope to utilize their aerial weaponry. Although quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 had a few bruised ribs after last weekend, he said he is ready to go this weekend. Cowan, who is 48-for-90 with 533 yards and seven touchdowns, is on the 2004 Walter Payton Award watch list. His favorite target so far this season has been wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05, who is second in the league in receptions per game with 6.33 and two touchdowns.
In order for both rushing and passing to function, the Eli offensive line will need to continue making their blocks. Center Ed McCarthy ’07 said that the linemen are concentrating on the mental aspects of their jobs.
“We’re really focused on learning the schemes for Saturday so that there’s no hesitation about who to block,” McCarthy said. “This allows us to play more aggressively.”
This is McCarthy’s first season starting at center, and he said he is still adjusting to snapping the ball instead of just blocking like he did last season as the left guard. Even though McCarthy had a few botched snaps against Colgate, he is still the starter.
“It’s nice to know that they trust me [at the position],” McCarthy said. “Hopefully I can show I deserve that trust by putting forward a more consistent effort in terms of snapping the ball versus Dartmouth.”
The last piece of the puzzle for the Elis is special teams, something Siedlecki does not seem to be too worried about after last Saturday.
“We punted well, we kicked well, we covered kicks well and we returned punts and kicks well,” Siedlecki said. “It was the best special-teams game we have had probably.”
With everything clicking the way it did last weekend, it might be easy for the team to lose some focus. That is not something they can do because they are facing Dartmouth, a team described by Siedlecki as “absolutely having their backs to the wall.”
“They will play as hard as they can,” Siedlecki said. “They know this is going to be a really good football game. They’ve got to have [the win] as much as we do.”
Cowan agreed that it was not the time to dwell on the upset of Colgate.
“We enjoyed the win, but that’s what it was; we have to put it behind us,” Cowan said. “The facts are that we are 0-and-1 in the league, and we’ve got to change that to stay [competitive].”