Yale has not lost the season — only the margin for error.
Though they were destroyed by Penn, 38-21, last weekend, the members of the football team managed to leave Philadelphia with their Ivy League title hopes still somewhat intact.
Now Yale (2-4, 2-1 Ivy), treading water, has been thrown a life preserver — Ancient Eight bottom-feeder Columbia (2-4, 0-3).
The Lions are winless in their last seven league games, dating back to a 9-6 win over Dartmouth on Oct. 23 of last year. They have lost six of the last seven meetings with Yale; their starting running back, pint-sized freshman Jordan Davis, played wide receiver in high school; opponents have out-gained Columbia 1248 to 265 in rushing yards this season.
With the Lions looming, instead of cowering after last week’s loss, receiver Ashley Wright ’07 says Yale is chomping at the bit.
“We took a whooping last week from the number one team,” he said. “But we just got beat that day. It doesn’t mean they’re better than us, it’s just that they came to play and we didn’t. So now we’re going to take it out on Columbia.”
In order to do so, the Bulldogs will have to learn to win away from the Yale Bowl. Tomorrow’s game marks the final episode in a three-game stretch of road contests for the Elis. Visits to Lehigh and Penn earlier this month made for long bus rides back on I-95, though none as long or disheartening as the plane ride back from the season-opening 17-14 loss at San Diego.
Fortunately for Yale, this road game is just a day trip, making it more like a high school game than a business trip, and offering a break for the beleaguered Elis as well.
“[Sleeping in our own beds tonight] does make it a lot easier on us,” Wright said. “Traveling makes it difficult. It will help not being in a hotel.”
Easier still for Wright will be his task against Columbia. The Lions have yielded 208 rushing yards per game, 14th-worst in Division I-AA, and have the habit of moving their safeties toward the line of scrimmage when their front seven get out-muscled — a process which usually only takes a couple of drives. Should that happen, Yale’s potent passing game will put up huge numbers.
One major point for the passing game, however, will be for quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 to keep Columbia linebackers and defensive backs honest by distributing the ball to both sides of the field. Mroz is not immobile, but he is certainly no threat as a scrambler. Last week, when he rolled out, Penn flooded the strong side, knowing Mroz was only looking to the near flat and sideline. The result was 35 passing yards through the first three quarters.
The Columbia offense is accustomed to that sort of output. The unit is ranked 111th (out of 116 teams) in yards and scoring, though most of the statistics stem from its geriatric running ability.
“They’re predominantly a pass-first team,” safety Matt Handlon ’06 said. “They really haven’t had a running game. They have three or four receivers who are pretty good and a QB who can get them the ball.”
Handlon is not given to pre-game derision, but in this case he might have been too kind to Columbia. The quarterback he speaks of is unimposing sophomore Craig Hormann, and after speedy receiver Brandon Bowser, who has 30 catches on the year, the Lions’ next leader in receptions is Mike DeFazio — a running back, not a receiver.
These factors make for a Columbia team that should be Yale’s final sure thing of the season. The Elis will likely be the underdog in each of their final three games.
“I think we can still be a championship team,” Handlon said. “A lot of us have been talking and we think it’s possible that Penn will lose an Ivy League game. But it’s out of our hands. We gotta do what we can do, and that’s win four in a row.”