Enough is enough.
Saturday’s fourth-quarter meltdown against Penn underscored the shortcomings that have held back Yale football for years.
It’s time to try something new.
It’s time to try something other than incomprehensible second-half fake punts in our own territory (with a lead, no less). It’s time to try something other than a game plan that yields 10 points of offense in two games despite a boatload of talent. It’s time to try something different from unimaginative play-calling that leaves our star running back hobbled for the last weeks of a nearly undefeated 2007 season, thanks largely to the fact that Mike McLeod ’09 was forced to carry the ball an average of 33 times a game last year, often in blowouts.
But you don’t need me to tell you who’s to blame for Saturday’s meltdown, which essentially ended any chance at an Ivy title for the preseason co-favorites.
“This one’s on me,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said at the post-game press conference. “I had no answers offensively, and we’ve got to get it squared away. We did not give our players a chance. We were absolutely ineffective with what we were doing.”
Saturday’s game was dominated by two themes from the past few years: a lack of adjustment on offense and a series of simple strategic missteps.
With Penn putting pressure on quarterback Brook Hart ’11 and holding McLeod to only 28 yards on 18 carries, the offense stalled completely. While the Quakers wore down the Elis all day, relying on a few tricky plays — including a pair of quick punts by their quarterback — Yale was unable to adjust. McLeod never got a chance to get into open space because the play — calling rarely stretched the field and instead brought predictable run after predictable run.
Despite its offensive troubles, Yale still had a chance to win with a field goal in the final minutes of regulation, when the Elis trailed 9-7. The drive that followed epitomized the play-calling that has put Yale behind the eight ball nearly every week.
After completing four of five passes to move to the Penn 32, Hart took a sack that moved the Bulldogs back to the 44, keeping the clock running and forcing Siedlecki to call the first of his three timeouts. One incomplete pass later, the clock was stopped at 2:07, with Yale facing fourth and a nearly impossible 19. Yale then called timeout to think things over.
The only problem was that the use of a second timeout left Yale with very few options; the Elis had to go for it on fourth down. To punt and try to make a defensive stand with only one timeout would have gotten Yale the ball with about 30 seconds to play, somewhere near midfield — not a good likely route to win a game.
The result of the fourth down heave — an incomplete pass thrown by Hart as he was hit — forced Yale to make a defensive stop. The Elis got the ball back with 15 seconds remaining, 77 yards from Penn’s end zone and without a chance to win.
The game’s conclusion was not a matter of not having any answers, as Siedlecki suggested after the game. It was a matter of giving the wrong answers.
This is by no means an indictment of everything Siedlecki has done here.
On balance he has improved the program and made it one of the league’s most formidable forces. He has had several very successful seasons and has consistently kept Yale in the top half of the league.
He recruits the best players in the Ancient Eight; McLeod was the league’s preseason offensive player of the year, and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 was its preseason defensive player of the year.
Yet every year, Yale stumbles when it matters most.
In 2005, Yale blew an 18-point second-half lead to Harvard, losing in triple overtime. In 2006, with a shot at an undefeated Ivy season, the Elis crumbled against Princeton, giving away an 11-point fourth-quarter lead to lose to the eventual co-champions by three. And last year — well, who can forget the epic 37-6 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson to ruin what would have been a perfect season.
After the Princeton loss in 2006, Siedlecki said, “We just didn’t have the answers and didn’t make plays in the second, and that’s not a good combination.”
And after Harvard in 2007: “We got outplayed, got out-coached, whatever. … We just really had no answers offensively.”
It’s time to find some answers. If that means changing who calls the plays, then so be it.
Andrew Bartholomew is a senior in Davenport College and a former sports editor for the News.