“We must protect this house” may be a commercial slogan, but it applies well to what the 31 Eli seniors will be fighting to do as they take the field at home for the last time in blue and white.
On Saturday the Yale football team (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) will face Princeton (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) at the Yale Bowl in the first of the two rivalry games of the season. With many alumni in town rooting for the Elis, the match-up is going to be charged with excitement for both teams. But more than bragging rights are on the line. A win for either team would help keep them in contention for a spot in the top three of the Ivy League and give them one part of the HYP championship. Since both the Bulldogs and the Tigers were caged last weekend, they will be ready to play come game time.
“We are both 2-3 in the league and we are both coming off very tough losses,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Both teams will be excited to play. We need a great week of preparation and our seniors will lead the way.”
One senior with experience against the Tigers is quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05. Cowan helped orchestrate the comeback for the Elis last year in New Jersey. His long pass was caught by wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 in the endzone as the clock expired to put the game into overtime. The Bulldogs pulled out a win in the second overtime 27-24.
Cowan said he feels lucky to be able to play with his teammates, who have made his time at Yale a memorable experience.
“Obviously, we want to win, but win or lose, I don’t have any regrets about coming back for a fifth year or any of the years I’ve had before that,” Cowan said.
Cowan added that the offense needs to work on converting third downs better in order to have a good game against the Tigers.
“I think there’s no doubt that beating Princeton is going to be a tough task for anyone, us included,” he said. “Every time we play them it seems like it comes down to the last play. I expect this year to be no different. I think we’re going to have to put a full game together, offensively, both run and pass, defensively, and special teams.”
Cowan could not have spoken more truly since the teams are statistically evenly matched. Each team has slight advantages in various statistical categories. The Elis throw for 192.4 yards per game compared to the Tigers’ 181.6, but Princeton has allowed 179.4 yards per game in the air compared to Yale’s 221.3. Rushing is similar, with the Tigers putting up slightly more yards per game, while the Elis allow less. The two teams have comparable first downs, total offense and total defense. The Tigers average 4.6 points per game more than the Elis, but the Bulldogs allow 3 points fewer per game. Because of these numbers, the question to ask is who can execute their game plan better.
One facet of the Bulldogs’ plan will be tightening up an already strong defense by allowing fewer third down conversions. With six senior starters on defense, it will be up to them to lead the defensive stands that force three-and-outs.
“One of the keys for our defense is performing well on third down,” defensive tackle Bryant Dieffenbacher ’05 said. “When we have the situation of third and five, we have to stop [the Tigers] and get the ball back to our offense. The more possessions they have, the more the [Eli] offense is going to be able to get going. Forcing turnovers is also important.”
On offense, the Bulldogs need more than the 25:49 possession time they have been averaging per game if they hope to utilize their talent and put points on the scoreboard. While passing worked well against Brown until the Elis got within the 30-yard line, the Bulldogs will be working toward more of a balanced attack. If Cowan can connect with Henley and Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week Ralph Plumb ’05 like he did last week, the Tigers’ defense may be spread out enough to allow tailback Rob Carr ’05 to find holes and create successful run plays to help control the clock.
Carr may have one of his biggest challenges yet, though, by way of the Tiger linebackers. Zak Keasey and Justin Stull are the top two tacklers in the Ancient Eight, averaging 12.4 and 11.1 tackles per game, respectively. With these two Tigers roaming behind the defensive line, finding and exploiting holes in the Princeton defense is not going to be easy.
If Keasey and Stull shut down the Eli run and the Elis need big gains quickly, they will again turn to their four receiver set.
“Last year we were winging the ball and good things happened,” Henley said. “It’s on us [receivers] to make the plays, they are putting it in our hands.”
Henley said helping the seniors win at home is more motivating than beating Princeton.
“A lot of seniors only have two games left and that’s enough right there to get guys like me to play a little bit harder,” Henley said. “To have them lose, I’d feel bad. I’d feel like I’m letting them down. We should play for each other, which is what we’ve got to do.”
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