The Game may be a week away, but this weekend’s contest between two old rivals promises not to disappoint.
Yale (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) hosts Princeton (3-5, 2-3) at the Yale Bowl in what is the third consecutive must-win game for the Bulldogs. With three teams tied for first place ahead of them in the standings, the Elis are looking to keep their Ivy League title hopes alive with a third straight victory.
The contest, which will be televised nationally on VERSUS as the Ivy League Game of the Week, will be the 131st meeting between the two schools — second only to the Lehigh and Lafayette’s 143 meetings.
“We always treat the final two games as a package,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “It is very difficult to play your archrivals two weeks in a row but it is a great way to finish the season and for the seniors their college football careers. I try to convey to them what an honor it is to play in these games.”
The rivalry, along with it being the final home game for one of Yale’s winningest classes and its importance in the conference championship race, promises to create an electric atmosphere at the historic Yale Bowl.
“We love having the support that’s for sure, but we’re intense and ready to go every time we step out on that field,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “Whether there’s 1,000 or 40,000, we’re just focused on playing to the best of our capability. Hopefully we get a good turnout though.”
After losing two of their first three league games, the prospect of a second conference title in three seasons didn’t look too bright. But wins over Columbia (1-7, 1-4) and first-place Brown (5-3, 4-1) the past two weeks now have the Elis in sole control of second place behind the three teams tied in the top spot — Harvard (7-1, 4-1), Penn (5-3, 4-1) and Brown.
Since there are no tiebreakers in Ivy League football, the Bulldogs will just need each of the first-place teams to lose one of their final two games. While Penn has Harvard to worry about this weekend and Yale plays Harvard to finish the season, Brown’s remaining schedule does not bode well for Yale’s chances.
The Bears conclude their season against the league’s bottom dwellers — Columbia and Dartmouth (0-8, 0-5).
The team is well aware of the situation, but is just looking to take care of its business against the Tigers.
“It would be like manna from heaven if we came back and won the title,” cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 said. “But right now we’re just worrying about beating Princeton; everything else will take care of itself.”
Yale’s hopes rest on one of the nation’s top defenses. The Eli unit is the top-ranked scoring defense in the country, allowing just 11.9 points per game — two points fewer than second-ranked Prairie View A&M in Texas.
Opposing offenses find it difficult to score due to the constant pressure and clutch play-making from the Bulldogs. The Elis lead the Ancient Eight in sacks (18) and turnovers (22).
And while it has been known to bend a little, the unit rarely breaks. The Bulldogs have the league’s best red zone defense, allowing the opposition to score just 15 of 25 times (60 percent) and forcing five turnovers when inside the 20-yard line.
“Our defense is unbelievable,” tackle Darius Dale ’09 said. “I find myself watching them from almost a fan’s perspective when they are on the field. They are a fun bunch to watch because they play with a ton of passion and effort. I think just about every one of them deserves a spot on the All-Ivy team.”
The stout defense, combined with what has become one of the league’s best special teams units, has made things tough for the opposition with poor field position.
For the second consecutive week, kicker and punter Tom Mante ’10 was named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking two more field goals, but arguably more importantly for the Elis, averaging over 41 yards per punt.
After shutting down one of the league’s most explosive offenses last weekend, the Elis will have a mediocre offense to worry about this time around.
The Tigers are fifth in the league in scoring (19.4 ppg), fourth in total offense (336.9 ypg) and rely on the conference’s top rushing attack (155.2 ypg). But the Bulldogs surrender just 90.9 ypg on the ground and have only allowed three opponents over the century mark in that department this season.
That Princeton running game is led by Jordan Culbreath — the conference leader in yards (861) and touchdowns (8). The New Jersey native is the only player in the Ancient Eight averaging over 100 ypg on the ground.
“We’ll need to slow down their running game,” Abare said. “Their running back is probably the best we’ve seen all year. If we can do that and make them throw the ball we should have some success.”
At quarterback, senior Brian Anderson ranks fourth in the Ancient Eight in passing yards (1412), passing touchdowns (8) and is third in passing efficiency (130.5).
Anderson’s overwhelmingly favorite target is senior wide receiver Will Thanheiser. The Houston native ranks second in the conference in receiving yards (789) and fourth in receptions (46).
Over the past couple games the Yale offense has shown signs of life after major struggles in previous weeks, but it will go up against one of the league’s more porous defenses.
After putting up 27 points against Columbia and 368 yards at Brown, the Eli offense is poised to continue improving and easing the pressure off the vaunted defense.
The Tigers are in the bottom half of the Ancient Eight in scoring defense (23.8 ppg), total defense (360.8 ypg), rushing defense (143.5 ypg) and passing defense (217.2 ypg).
“Previously we hadn’t been making too many key plays,” Hart said. “Last week, we made key plays but not in key spots. So I believe that [the important thing] will just be making that key play in that key spot when we need it.”