Yale is about to get a big test against the Big Red as the Bulldogs hold both their home and Ivy League opener on Saturday at noon.
After a good — but not great — showing at Georgetown, the Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) are looking to make some key improvements when it comes to protecting quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 from the Cornell (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) defense.
Witt’s numbers last week — 22-27, 216 yards, 0 interceptions — were impressive, but when it came to responding to the rush, the Nebraska transfer showed clear signs that it was his first start of his collegiate career.
In total, the Georgetown defense sacked Witt six times, resulting in four fumbles, one of which was recovered for a touchdown, and another of which came when the Bulldogs were within three yards of a touchdown.
“We were playing the game at full-speed tempo for the first time, so there were probably some reads that [Witt] was trying to work through, but he needed to get the ball out of his hand faster,” head coach Tom Williams said.
In addition to Witt’s inexperience, the Bulldogs also have to deal with inexperience in the offensive line, which lost four out of last year’s five starters.
“You make the biggest improvement between the first and second games, and we expect to do just that,” Williams said.
It’s not going to get any easier against the Big Red defense.
Last year, Cornell stunned the Bulldogs with a 17-14 defeat in Ithaca, N.Y., as the Big Red defense sacked quarterbacks Ryan Fodor ’09 and Brook Hart ’11 three times each and limited star running back Mike McLeod ’09 to less than 60 yards on the ground.
The defeat was one of the lone highlights for Cornell last season, as it was one of only two Ivy League wins that the team had, and as it was the first time in four years that they had defeated Yale.
Although center Jake Koury ’10 was injured and could not play last season, he says he and the rest of the offensive line know where his teammates struggled in last year’s game.
“[Cornell] caught us off guard last year,” he said. “They put a lot of pressure and they got the best of our offensive line, so we’re hoping to rebound and have a better performance from last year.”
Tomorrow also marks the first time this season that the Bulldogs will be playing in front of television cameras, and therefore will have to deal with television time-outs. In total, eight out of Yale’s 10 games will be televised.
“We have to make sure that we don’t hit that lull,” Williams said. “We [have to] keep that stinger out and perform even when the clock is stopped.”
Cornell is coming off a dominant 33-9 win themselves against Bucknell. After leading 9-7 in the first quarter, the Big Red pulled ahead in the second with a 30-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Ben Ganter and a 65-yard run by senior tailback Stephen Liuzza.
Cornell was predicted to finish tied for sixth place in the eight-team Ivy League preseason poll, while the Bulldogs were selected to finish fourth.
Knowing that Cornell will be a tougher test than Georgetown, Williams is hoping that the Elis have ironed out their kinks and continue to play the same way they did in the second half of last week’s game. In that time period, the Bulldogs got a taste of their full potential: they scored two touchdowns, shut-out the Hoyas, and punter Tom Mante ’10 launched two 65-plus-yard punts.
“I think we have a lot of potential, and we are just going to keep getting better,” Witt said.
Williams is uncertain whether injured running back Alex Thomas ’10 will be playing in tomorrow’s game. Williams also said that backup Brook Hart’s ’11 participation will be a game-time decision. Hart, who started five games last season, played in one series last week.
The game will be televised on Versus and can be heard on WELI (AM-960, 960weli.com) and WYBC (AM-1340, wybc.com).