Yale sunk under the weight of having three of its kicks blockedlast week. Dartmouth managed to force overtime with the University of Pennsylvania, the defending Ivy League champions, thanks to a blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Tomorrow, the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) will hope they can avoid another nightmare on special teams when they travel to Hanover to play the Big Green (2-1, 0-1).
The field goal and extra point that Albany blocked would have made the difference in a game that Yale lost by only three points. The Bulldogs have gone into this week of practice aware not only that they have work to do on the kicking unit, but also that every team they face from now on will have seen their weakness.
“We’ve put a target on our backs,” said head coach Tom Williams after the Albany game. “A lot of teams take that [fourth] down off, but now they’ll be sending their best guys out to block.”
The best Big Green kick blockers are especially to be feared. Last week’s field goal stop was no fluke. Dartmouth has blocked a kick in each of the first three games and at least one kick in seven of the past eight games dating back to last year.
When the Big Green don’t block kicks, they have had great success returning them. Their kickoff return average of a modest 19.3 yards does not seem especially high, but that number may be skewed because teams have been kicking short to try to neutralize returner Shawn Abuhoff, who is averaging 28.9 yards per return.
But the special teams unit takes the field only once each drive. Yale will hope its defense can put together another solid performance and that its offense can rebound after struggling last week.
The defense will be buoyed on Saturday by the presence of captain and defensive lineman Tom McCarthy ’11, who was hurt in the season opener against Georgetown. The captain’s 6’6”, 255-pound presence will reinforce a defense that has allowed only 80.5 yards on the ground per game, best in the Ivy League.
The defensive line will face a threat in Big Green junior tailback Nick Schweiger, who has averaged 144 yards in his two games this season.
“Dartmouth has one of the top backs in the Ivy League,” said defensive lineman Joe Young ’11. “Albany ran the ball inside, but Dartmouth is going to send him around the perimeter. We have to force him in.”
As they try to force Schweiger inside, Yale will also have to contend with a strong Dartmouth offensive line that has allowed only one sack this season.
“We have to respect what they’ve been able to do thus far, holding opposing teams to onesack through three games,” said lineman Allen Davis ’13, who has a sack on the season. “But I see that as a challenge to our defense to find ways to break those linemen and get some hits on the quarterback.”
The Big Green, too, will be worrying about stopping the run. Yale halfback Alex Thomas ’12 managed only 30 yards on 17 carries last week, but still leads the Ivy League in rushing. He will get help this week from Mordecai Cargill ’13, who will try to reprise his 89-yard performance against Cornell after sitting out the Albany game with an injury.
The two backs will take their handoffs from quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 who leads the Ivy League in passing yards with 290 per game. Witt left last week’s game after two Albany lineman hit him in mid-throw on the second to last play, but expects to be in full health on Saturday.
“I’ve gotten hit a couple times in the past few games and let that affect my play,” Witt said. “I have to do better than that [against Dartmouth].”
Witt will face a solid counterpart behind center for the Big Green. Connor Kempe is third in the Ivy League in passing, and has solid targets in junior Michael Reilly and senior Tim McManus, who have 21 receptions for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns between them.
“It’s tough to win on a Saturday,” said Williams. “Anybody can beat anybody. It’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes that will have the chance to win.”