Yale has not started a season 3–0 since 2007, when it went 9–1 but came up short of winning the Ivy League championship after a blowout loss at The Game.
This year’s Bulldogs will try to match that team’s success Saturday, when, for the first time ever, they take on the University at Albany Great Danes of the Northeastern Conference at the Yale Bowl.
Albany’s September schedule is one of the most difficult in the country: This week’s game is the Great Danes’ fourth consecutive road contest, and their schedule has taken them more than 6,000 miles across the country.
The Great Danes (1–2) earned their only win of the season at their first stop. They held Maine (1–3) to 246 total yards of offense in a season-opening shutout, but managed only 250 yards and three points themselves.
Albany’s offense has managed to find the endzone only four times in the two losses since, coming into this week ranked 122nd in the Football Championship Subdivision in scoring. None of those scores have come through the air — quarterback Dan Di Lella has struggled, with three interceptions and an average of 135.3 yards passing per game.
Yale is determined not to take anything for granted, even faced with those numbers. The Great Danes have one more game under their belt than the Bulldogs, and have seen the best of the FCS in their week two loss to No. 6 Stephen F. Austin.
“They’re athletic and pretty experienced,” said Colin Bibb ’13, last week’s Yale special teams player of the week. “We’re going to have to work hard to beat them.”
Albany has a tradition of success. The Great Danes have won seven or more games in eight of their past 11 seasons, and have won four Northeastern Athletic Conference titles in that span, most recently in 2008. Great Danes coach Bob Ford, who has spent the past 42 years coaching the team, has more wins than any other active FCS coach in the country. But the Great Danes are in rebuilding mode, having lost eight all-conference players from last season to graduation.
Yale, fresh off victories against Gerogetown and Cornell, will be looking to keep Albany from regaining its old form.
That effort will start with the defense. After struggling against Georgetown in the season opener, the Bulldogs managed to overcome the absence of captain Tom McCarthy ’11 on the defensive line and hold Cornell to a single touchdown.
“You can see across the board that all the people have settled in,” said safety Adam Money ’11. “They’re understanding what speed we have to play at and what it will take to be a dominant defense.”
The Bulldogs have allowed a mere 62.5 yards rushing a game so far this season, fifth best in the nation. Albany, led by sophomore tailback Drew Smith, has been getting most of its production on the ground.
“We’ve seen a lot of passing the first two games, so run defense is going to be key for us,” said defensive lineman Jake Stoller ’12. “They have a good running back and a solid offensive line, so that will be a good challenge.”
Yale’s offense, meanwhile, will try to build on its recent success and find the holes in Albany’s 72nd-ranked defense. Quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, who is 53–87 for 693 yards and three touchdowns this season, will again lead the offense. He is fifth in the FCS in total offense, with 318.5 yards per game.
Witt’s favorite targets are again likely to be receivers Gio Christodoulou ’11 and Jordan Forney ’11, who have combined for 23 receptions and 326 yards on the season. He will also look over the middle for breakout tight end Chris Blohm ’11, who did not touch the ball last year but has caught eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown this season.
The Bulldogs will also be able to take the pressure off Witt and eat up time on the clock with their two running backs. Alex Thomas ’12 leads the Ivy League in rushing with 107 yards per game, and Mordecai Cargill ’13 will look to improve on his solid play last week, when he earned 89 yards on 16 carries.
The Bulldogs are confident Cargill will not be the only one improving.
“We have two games under our belt, and we haven’t played our best football in any of our three phases,” head coach Tom Williams said. “As a coach, you have to be excited to have two wins and know that you haven’t played your best football yet.”
Kickoff is slated for noon.