Although Dartmouth-Penn didn’t quite match Auburn-Florida or Oklahoma-Colorado, the Big Green’s 21-13 win over Penn last week raised eyebrows around the Ivy League.
Dartmouth — slated to finish last in the Ivies by the 2007 preseason media poll — upset a Quaker team that was supposed to contend with the Bulldogs for the Ivy League title. The victory over Penn was the first time since 1997 that the Mean Green have won a conference opener. This Saturday, the Big Green face off against the Bulldogs in an early match of Ivy League unbeatens.
“Dartmouth has won as many championships as anybody,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “They’re hungry and their fans are hungry. They’re going to come in here and play for a win and play to be first place in the Ivy League, same as us.”
Going into the season, Dartmouth had a huge hole to fill at quarterback after the graduation of Mike Fritz who finished second in the Ivies in passing efficiency and led his team in rushing. Despite an anemic run game that only averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season, the Dartmouth offensive attack still emphasized balance. The Mean Green managed to average 103.3 yards rushing per game and finished with more rushing attempts than passes thrown. The trend has continued this year with Dartmouth recording fifteen more carries than passes attempted. Unlike the Bulldogs’ first three opponents, Dartmouth will not abandon the run at the first sign of trouble.
“I think for the third week in a row we completely obliterated a team’s running attack,” Stephen Schmalhofer ’08 said after the win against Holy Cross. “We got them very predictable and they were throwing the ball almost every down in the second half.”
Replacing Fritz this season will be senior quarterback Tom Bennewitz, who entered last season as the starter but lost the job to Fritz after suffering an injury in the season opener against Colgate. Bennewitz threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns against Penn and is averaging 183 yards per game this season after only throwing for 102 in last year’s opener.
“He’s been impressive,” Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens said about his starting quarterback. “He’s not forcing the ball and he’s more content to be in the pocket. He’s a great, athletic young man that can pick up yardage with his legs but last game he hung in the pocket and threw the ball up. A year ago, he would run and only pick up two or three yards.”
Dartmouth’s defense will be led by reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week Ian Wilson. The senior strong safety recorded 13 tackles and two pass deflections while also coming up with a crucial stop on a third and one play that resulted in a missed Quaker field goal in the fourth quarter. Despite allowing over 400 total yards and seven trips to the redzone, the Dartmouth defense held Penn to just 13 total points.
It will take a Herculean effort for the Mean Green to have similar success against the Bulldogs. For the year, the Mean Green are allowing 205.3 yards rushing per game and yielding five yards per carry. Against Penn, Dartmouth gave up 140 yards on the ground and allowed Quaker quarterback Bryan Walker to scramble for 61 yards. If Dartmouth wants to keep superstar tailback Mike McLeod ’09 from maintaining his four-touchdown average, their defense will have to step up in a hurry.
“It’s Mike McLeod’s world, I’m just living it in,” John Sheffield ’10 said. “The kid is ridiculous and he proves it every week. Mike is the best player I have ever played with or against and I have played with and against some pretty decent players. Mike can really just do it all.”
Although the Elis enter the game as the prohibitive favorite, the team is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s just reality in college football that if you’re not ready emotionally, you can get beat by anybody,” Siedlecki said after the slew of upsets last weekend. “We’re not playing anybody where we can just show up.”
The Bulldogs tee off against the Mean Green at 12:30 Saturday at the Yale Bowl.