The football team knows that to win to do to win, it needs to run the ball effectively with tailback Mike McLeod ’09. And in Saturday’s game against Holy Cross, it did just that.

“I don’t know if we spent so much time on the things that we thought we had to do to get the pressure off of [McLeod] that we forgot to put the emphasis on who our best player is and make sure he was getting the opportunities,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said after the game.

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After two weeks of unproductive rushing attacks, including being held to zero net rushing yards against Cornell on Sept. 27, the Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1 Ivy) established the run early and often against the Crusaders (1-3) on their way to an exciting 31-28 victory in double overtime at the Yale Bowl.

McLeod carried the ball 39 times for 131 yards and a touchdown in his most productive game of the young season. He came into the contest against Holy Cross with just 142 yards through the team’s first two games.

McLeod was rarely taken off the field because of an injury that sidelined backup tailback Ricardo Galvez ’10 for the game — the only time he did miss action was when he hobbled off the field late in the fourth quarter after rolling an ankle. But the Walter Payton Award candidate was back out there for the start of overtime and carried the ball twice upon returning.

Both he and Siedlecki confirmed after the game that the ankle injury was nothing serious.

“We have to run the football to be good, and we did not run the ball well in the first two games,” Siedlecki said. “We need to be a running football team that can throw the ball well, instead of what we were the first two games, where we were really throwing the football because we really weren’t running it well.”

The effective running game did two things to Yale’s advantage.

First, it kept an explosive Holy Cross offense capable of scoring in bunches off the field longer. Working out of the shotgun formation for the entire game, Crusader quarterback Dominic Randolph set school records in completions (41) and attempts (63) and threw for a total of 376 yards and three touchdowns. A time consuming 17-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to end the first half culminated in a McLeod one-yard run and was key after Holy Cross had gone 72 yards on just four plays for a touchdown in its previous drive.

Second, a productive running game also took the pressure off the quarterback position by forcing the opponent to be conscientious of the ground attack by putting more defenders in the box.

Using play-action almost exclusively on every pass play, quarterback Ryan Fodor ’09 was able to find open receivers under little pressure from the Crusader defense from the outset.

“It eases the pressure off of our passing game when we are in the pocket because teams are more reluctant to blitz,” Fodor explained, “because they will get beat on big running plays, and it allows for receivers to get open in the play-action game because teams are going to bite on the run fakes.”

With the effective play-action passing game, Fodor completed 17 of his 23 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. The senior was sacked just once and led an offense that committed no turnovers.

The 23 passes were a season low for the Bulldogs, who threw 34 times against Georgetown and 37 times against Cornell — a sign that last weekend’s rushing attack was providing the much-needed balance.

While the running game is starting to show signs of life, Siedlecki still thinks there is room for improvement. After all, McLeod did run for 256 yards and five touchdowns on just one more carry (40) last season against the Crusaders.

“I still think we got to get better,” Siedlecki said. “I thought there were at least six running plays [on Saturday] that last year would’ve been big plays and we were just a little bit off.”

But like everything else, the Bulldogs think it will come with time.

“We have a new starting right guard, tight end and fullback that are getting better each game along with the rest of the offensive line,” Fodor said. “And as long as we continue to get better each week, we will continue to see success running the ball.”