Like the Boston Red Sox in Game 4, the football team knows that they have their work cut out for them.
Saturday at the Yale Bowl, the Elis (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) take on the Div. I-AA No. 22 University of Pennsylvania (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) in the first of five crucial games against Ivy League opponents. After losing to Cornell in Ithaca Sept. 25, the Bulldogs know they likely need to win the rest of their games if they hope to remain in the hunt for the Ivy Championship.
“We haven’t beaten them in the three years that I have been here,” wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 said. “If we have a good game and play them physically, I like the chances.”
Although the Bulldogs dominate the overall series between these two teams 42-28-1, the Quakers have won 10 of the last 12 contests. And to add insult to injury, the Elis lost in their first modern overtime last year in Philadelphia 34-31 after rallying back from a 31-10 deficit in the fourth quarter. But the Quakers also have pride on the line as they battle to stay on top of the league and extend their Ivy winning streak to a record-setting 18 games.
It may take a little more than a simple good game for the offense to produce a Yale win, as the Elis will be matching up against one of the stingiest defenses in the Ancient Eight. The Quaker defense is ranked third in Div. I-AA both in rushing defense and scoring defense by allowing only 79.2 rushing yards and 12.4 points per game. Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said they have accomplished the feat by playing dime defense with six defensive backs and confusing their opponents.
“Our biggest thing is getting people on people,” Siedlecki said. “They try to out-scheme you and make you make mistakes. You’ve got to make sure you aren’t giving up that drive-stopper because then you are playing right into their hands.”
The Elis have done a good job limiting those kinds of plays, especially fumbles and interceptions. The Bulldogs lead the league with a turnover ratio of 1.75, allowing four picks and no fumbles within the league while grabbing five picks and six fumbles. If they can continue that level of play against the Quakers, they will have an edge.
Another key to a strong performance is a balanced offensive attack. The aerial weapons need to be functioning well, with quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 finding his receivers, especially Plumb, Chandler Henley ’05, and Alex Faherty ’05. But the ground game must be strong, too. The Elis have to gain more than the 98 yards they had against Lehigh last week. Even though Penn has consistently shut down the run this year, Siedlecki said he was optimistic about the Bulldogs’ ability to gain on the ground because of tailback Rob Carr ’05.
“He seems to be a man on a mission,” Siedlecki said. “He is not a typical running back: he’s not sore usually. He works hard in the pass game and he’s as good as anyone we’ve ever had.”
Carr has rushed for 635 yards and four touchdowns and is on pace to break Eli records. His 27 career touchdowns tie him with Dick Jauron ’73 for second place and he needs only 135 yards to pass Rashad Bartholomew ’01 for most career yards rushing. Carr’s speed and determination will be key to breaking through the Quaker defensive line for gains. Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said Carr is everything you would want in a running back.
“He’s very durable,” Bagnoli said. “Not only do you have to defend him in bounds, but also on the kicking game.”
The Elis will also be utilizing tailback Jordan Spence ’07, who is finally up to speed after a pre-season hamstring injury took him out of the rotation.
“He can be a real threat,” Siedlecki said. “He gives us real speed and takes a little pressure off of [Carr].”
On defense, the Bulldogs have been able to get into a rhythm, with the secondary supporting the linebackers and the defensive line. One wrench that has been thrown into the Bulldog machine, though, is the injury of starting defensive tackle Bryant Dieffenbacher ’05. Dieffenbacher broke his collar bone in the second quarter last Saturday, Siedlecki said. Stepping up to start will be Dieffenbacher’s backup, Nick Campbell ’05. Despite playing most weekends throughout his career, this will be Campbell’s first start.
“I am definitely excited to start, but I wish it were under different circumstances,” Campbell said. “The defensive line needs to step up and play a lot better if we want a chance to win.”
Siedlecki said Campbell has worked hard to make himself physically competitive at this position.
“You’ve got to have guys that develop in the program and [Campbell] has really played for three years,” Siedlecki said. “The defensive line is a tough spot to play.”