The football team will look to put a tough loss behind it when it hosts Holy Cross (1-2) at the Yale Bowl on Saturday afternoon for the first time since the Crusaders defeated the Bulldogs, 22-19, in 2005.

It may not be a league game, but the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) see this contest as a crucial one as they hope to head into the rest of their Ivy League schedule playing solid football— especially after an unexpected loss at Cornell (2-0, 1-0) last weekend.

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“When you only get to play 10 games, every game is crucial,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said.

The two New England schools met last season in Worcester, Mass., at a game that ended in a 38-17 Yale rout. In that game, running back Mike McLeod ’09 rushed for a then-school-record 256 yards and five touchdowns against a porous Holy Cross defense.

Once again, the Elis hope they can establish McLeod early and often, but this time around it may be more difficult — the Crusader run defense has allowed just 70 rushing yards per game in its first three this season.

“The best way for us to win is for our offense to control the ball and keep their offense on the sideline,” Siedlecki said.

But unlike last season, the Yale running game hasn’t controlled games like many are used to seeing. Through two games, the Elis are averaging just 68.5 yards on 33.5 carries per game — a far cry from last season’s average of 264.9 yards per game.

At the quarterback spot, Siedlecki confirmed in an e-mail that Ryan Fodor ’09 will be the starter once again, but whether he will be splitting time with Brook Hart ’11 for the third consecutive game is unknown.

Although Hart has a higher efficiency rate, one more touchdown and three fewer turnovers than his senior counterpart, Fodor played the majority of the time against Cornell last weekend.

Fodor has completed 25 of his 43 passes for 354 yards, two touchdowns and an interception through the first two games.

While the Yale offense had trouble in Ithaca, the Holy Cross attack has had no such problems so far this season. The Crusaders are averaging 34.7 points per game behind one of the nation’s most prolific passers.

Holy Cross quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Dominic Randolph has thrown for 768 yards and seven touchdowns through the team’s first three games. And Randolph has many weapons at his disposal — eight Crusaders have at least six receptions this season, led by running back Terrance Gass’s 14.

Gass also leads the Purple and White in rushing with 200 yards on 39 carries and splits time with Mike Kielt, who has carried the ball 27 times for 157 yards.

But the Yale defense looks up to the challenge.

The Bulldogs have allowed just 12 points per game and have held their opponents to just 225.5 yards per game — and only 140 through the air.

“We’ll just take things one play at a time,” captain Bobby Abare ’09 said. “We know they are capable of breaking any play for a touchdown so we’ll have to be focused and ready to play.”

Abare leads the unit in tackles with 14.5 tackles. His twin brother, Larry Abare ‘09, is next in line with 10 of his own. Joe Hathaway ’09 leads the team with three sacks and Steven Santoro ’09 tops the list with two interceptions.

With Dartmouth and the rest of the Ivy League schedule looming after this week, the Elis are not looking past the Crusaders, who just as easily could be heading into the contest with an unblemished record — their losses are by a combined four points against No. 11 UMass (2-2) and Harvard (1-1, 0-1).

“They are a team that we have the utmost respect for,” Bobby Abare said. “They came within three points of beating one of the better teams in the country (then No. 4 UMass) and we know they will be a challenge.”