With all of the frustration from lost opportunities and all of the motivation to earn a win over an archrival, the Yale football team will be seeing red this weekend in Boston.
The Elis (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) will be matching up for the 121st time against the unbeaten Div. I-AA No. 13 Harvard Crimson (9-0, 6-0). Although at the beginning of the season the Bulldogs thought they would be entering The Game as contenders for the Ivy League championship, they will be fighting to avoid being the first class since 1923 to go four years without a win over the Cantabs. The Bulldogs lead the overall series with the Crimson 63-48-9, but the Elis are 0-5 when facing an undefeated Harvard squad.
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said there are many similarities between the two teams despite the different season records.
“They have a pretty good running back, so do we; they have a pretty good quarterback, so do we; they have pretty good wide receivers, so do we,” Siedlecki said. “Harvard’s defense has improved from the beginning of the year to now. Our defense has played well all year. Both of us have much improved in the kicking game, all aspects of it.”
The teams are generally close in many categories, but they are different in one crucial area: scoring. The Cantabs have scored 304 points this season compared to the Elis’ 176. The Crimson also has more balanced scoring throughout its games than the Bulldogs, who continue to struggle to solve the offensive puzzle in the second half. The Elis finally broke the curse of the second half last week when they scored a touchdown off of a turnover against Princeton, but it remains to be seen whether they can possess the ball enough to overcome Harvard.
“[Scoring] has been our nemesis all year,” Siedlecki said. “We’ve got one more game to put this together and show what we thought this offense would be able to do.”
Captain and left tackle Rory Hennessey ’05 said the defense has kept the Bulldogs in many games when the offense has had troubles.
“Our defense has played huge all year,” Hennessey ’05 said. “They have come together as a unit. We really need that to carry over a little more on offense.”
Hennessey also said the tradition of The Game motivates the seniors to figure out the issues remaining with the offense.
“We haven’t had a game where it has all come together,” Hennessey said. “We want to play like we know we can. We’re excited for one more chance. It’s going to be fun for us.”
All eyes will be on the match-ups between the talented skill players on each team this Saturday. At running back, Harvard and Yale have the top two rushers in the Ancient Eight, Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week Clifton Dawson and Rob Carr ’05. Dawson has 53 more rushing yards than Carr right now, but both teams will be turning to these backs to eat up yardage and clock time with their running.
Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said there are no two better backs in the Ivy League.
“[Carr] may be short, but he is not small,” Murphy said. “He is very tough physically and has great vision. He makes the right cuts. [Dawson] is bigger and has had five 70-plus yard gains.”
The signal-callers for the Elis and Cantabs are also similar. Bulldog quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 and the Crimson’s Ryan Fitzpatrick are the two most efficient passers in the Ivies. Cowan has four more touchdown passes with 16 and also throws for 5.2 yards per game more than Fitzpatrick.
The targets for these two quarterbacks are also very productive. Ralph Plumb ’05 averages 95.7 receiving yards per game, while Harvard’s Corey Mazza records 79.6 yards on average.
While these flashy, highlight-reel type of players are the ones who make the big plays, it could come down to a battle in the trenches between offensive and defensive lines. It will also matter who can play tighter defense overall.
Siedlecki said stopping Harvard from breaking a monster play, such as the 80-yard rushes that Dawson is capable of, will be necessary to win.
“I think that’s the key, the no big play deal,” Siedlecki said. “It’s about containment. [The Cantabs] are going to make some plays, but we’ve got to make them earn it.”
Siedlecki said it is also crucial to not let red-zone opportunities slip away. Last weekend, the Bulldogs were 3-for-6 in the red zone.
“If we go 6-for-6, we can win,” Siedlecki said.
Win or lose, it is guaranteed to be an exciting show for the crowd as 19th century traditions are carried on.
“It’s going to be a Bowl-game type of atmosphere there this weekend,” Murphy said.