Yale has one last chance to iron out the kinks in its game.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) face Fordham (2-4) at the Yale Bowl on Saturday in their last non-league game of the season. After this Saturday, every week has the potential to eliminate Yale from contention for the Ivy League championship. But no one on the team expects anything less than a hard-fought win.
“We just have to go one win at a time,” running back Javi Sosa ’13 said. “We have to play hard against whoever is next on our schedule.”
Although they are 2-4, the Rams’ past five games have all been decided by less than a touchdown. Yale will need to overcome crucial injuries on offense, take advantage of turnovers on defense, and find a consistency on special teams that has been elusive this season.
The Bulldogs have two running backs — Mordecai Cargill ’13 and Alex Thomas ’12 – who have registered 100-yard efforts so far this season, but both may be forced to watch this week’s game from the sidelines. Thomas hurt a rib last week when he fell awkwardly onto the football. Thomas said on Thursday that if he plays, it will be a game-time decision. Cargill played through an injured ankle as he gained 126 yards against Dartmouth, but his reward will be having to miss Saturday’s game.
For the second consecutive game, Yale’s attack will also be missing all-Ivy center Jake Koury ’11, who injured his knee against Albany. Last week, when Alex Golubiewski ’11 also missed the game to take the LSAT exam, the inexperience on the offensive line showed. Dartmouth defenders hit quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 more than any team has all season, and the line committed a number of sloppy penalties. With Golubiewski back and Jeff Fell ’12 snapping the football for the second consecutive game, the line will try to open enough holes for young running backs Javi Sosa ’13 and Elijah Thomas ’14.
The Bulldogs can take some pressure off their young running backs if Witt continues his recent success through the air. He is averaging 277 yards per game, thanks in large part to his numerous options downfield. The growth of fullback Shane Bannon ’11 — who had a career-high six catches and a touchdown last week — and tight end Chris Blohm ’11 has meant that Witt does not have to rely entirely on his wide receivers.
Witt and the rest of the attack will contend with a Fordham defense that returned seven starters from last year but does not yet seem to have found its rhythm. The Rams are allowing their opponents a porous 364.3 yards per game.
But the two times that Fordham has held its opponent to fewer than 300 yards are against Columbia — the Rams’ only other Ivy League opponent — and against Lehigh — their opponent last week.
While Fordham’s defense has struggled, its offense — which also returns seven starters — has flourished. Sophomore transfer Blake Wayne became the first-ever Fordham quarterback to rush for 100 yards in a game when he burned Holy Cross for 108 on 20 carries two weeks ago.
“We’re going to try to keep [Wayne] in the pocket a little more and maybe send him a message here and now,” linebacker Jesse Reising ’11 said.
But Yale must worry about pass coverage as well. Wayne torched a Lehigh defense that was expecting the run for 343 yards and a touchdown through the air last week.
Wayne’s favorite targets will be his two preseason All-Americans: wide receiver Jason Caldwell and tight end Stephen Skelton, who have 794 yards and three touchdowns between them.
The Eli defense will try to do more than just stop the ball. After turning the tide against Dartmouth last week with a pair of fourth-quarter takeaways, Yale has focused on turnovers in practice this week. They will hope to find an easy victim in the Rams, who have fumbled twelve times in six games.
Yale has dropped the ball twice in its four contests.
While the Yale offense and defense will look to build on their success so far, the special teams will try to prove that last week’s relatively solid game was no fluke. Yale allowed only one blocked kick — an extra point in the first quarter — and Phillip Panico ’13 converted the first Bulldog field goal of the season in dramatic fashion.
Head coach Tom Williams is still tinkering. He has suggested that Greg Carlsen ’14, who transferred from the University of Florida, will take over punting duties. He has also said he is unlikely to send his field goal unit out again on long kicks like the 53- and 45-yarders that Panico missed last week.
But the Bulldogs also hope that they will not need to count on the fourth quarter heroics of their field goal squad to seal a win.
“We have to continue to let everything we’ve gained from these close games against Dartmouth and Cornell teach us that we can take some adversity and still manage to find a way to win,” Cargill said. “If we let our confidence carry over, I feel like we have a good chance at beating Fordham and [winning] the Ivy League Championship.”