Last week brought the deluge. Yesterday brought the fast. Tomorrow Yale travels to Bethlehem.
But perhaps the allusions ought to end there, in Bethlehem, Pa., home of Div. I-AA No. 20 Lehigh, as the Elis (2-2, 2-0 Ivy) will be neither visiting the birthplace of Christ nor playing a game of particularly biblical importance. The game will be Yale’s final non-league contest of the season.
It has been a bit of a lull for the Elis, perhaps the world’s cheeriest 2-2 team, after they rolled over Ivy foe Dartmouth in a rain-soaked affair last Saturday. Nevertheless, overlooking the Patriot League’s most feared squad, who are a very dangerous 3-2, would ensure that Yale finishes 2005 a very embarrassing 0-3 outside the Ancient Eight.
Lehigh’s three wins include a 49-24 drubbing in Cambridge of then-No. 15 Harvard, and its losses are a 34-33 overtime game at then-No. 10 Delaware and last week’s 13-10 loss to Holy Cross, during which a torrential downpour foiled the Mountain Hawks’ spread offense.
Quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06, Yale’s captain, sees the match-up as a good barometer for the Bulldogs.
“Lehigh is perennially a great team,” he said. “They beat us the last two times we played them, too. They’re the kind of team you want to see how you stack up against. Not a lot of us will have a tough time getting up for this one.”
But Brandt Hollander ’08 might have an excuse if he is not as energized as usual. The nose guard was permitted to skip practice yesterday so he could spend the day fasting and attending services in observance of Yom Kippur.
Hollander, one of a small handful of Jews on Yale’s team, is no stranger to the difficult balancing act Jewish football players are forced to make during the high holidays.
“I had conflicts with it all the time in high school,” Hollander said. “Usually I just went to services and missed playing. But last year we had a game [at Cornell] and I played.”
Hollander made three tackles during that game, but wryly bemoaned the fact that Yale would schedule a contest on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
“They weren’t looking out for their Jewish brothers,” he said. “It’s kind of a sham.”
Hollander will not have to deal with scheduling conflicts this year, but he will be charged with stopping a high-powered Lehigh attack that has paced the Patriot League in scoring (34.8) and total offense (373.4) this year.
Senior quarterback Mark Borda, an All-Patriot League second team selection last season and the league’s top passer through five games this season, triggers Lehigh’s potent spread attack. Receiver Gerran Walker and running back Eric Rath – also seniors – round out a trio of weapons for the Mountain Hawks.
Hollander was aware of Lehigh’s talented skill players but felt that the Yale defense could exploit an offensive line with three first-year starters.
“[Borda] looks pretty good,” Hollander said. “He can throw the ball downfield pretty well. Their receivers are talented. The running backs run the ball well downhill. But they have a rebuilt line, so they might’ve taken a step back this year.”
Yale will look to exploit Lehigh if those new linemen focus too much on defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06, who recorded three sacks last week against the Big Green.
“It’d be great if they did,” Hollander said. “On our D our talent is really spread out. So if they overemphasize on Brandon it’ll be great for [end Brendan Sponheimer ’07] – that’ll free him up. If they put too much emphasis on anyone, everyone else will step up and make plays.”
If the defense goes the way of all Lehigh foes this season — Mud-Bowls excluded — and fails to stop the Mountain Hawks, Mroz is still confident that Yale could win.
“If it gets into a shootout, we have the type of offense where we can go point-for-point with anyone,” he said.
Should the rainy weather continue and limit the offensive output, defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 said he thinks the muddy conditions would work in Yale’s favor and neutralize Lehigh’s spread attack.
“They have a lot of skill players who can really run and make plays down the field,” Porter said. “But it’ll be really hard for them to execute their offense and use their speed if the conditions are like last week.”