On Saturday the Yale football team faces its biggest test to date — taking down the defending Ivy League Champion Penn Quakers. Penn, ranked 20th in the most recent Football Championship Subdivision polls, is ranked higher than any team the Bulldogs have faced this season. Both teams are undefeated in conference play.
Win the field position battle
The Quakers are first in the Ivy League in total defense, while Yale leads the Ivies in total offense making Saturday’s game an interesting match up. Both defenses are stout, and points will be hard to come by. If Patrick Witt ’12 and the Yale offense can’t establish momentum early, they must put the defense in the best possible position to make plays. Field position will play a key role in this matchup of strength versus strength. However, punter Alex Barnes ’11 hasn’t had the best year so far as the Bulldogs rank seventh in the league in net punting yardage. If the offense gets the job done on Saturday, Barnes shouldn’t have to come on the field too often, but it’s up to him to pin the Quakers as far away from the Yale endzone as possible. And while Penn may be the most complete team the Bulldogs have seen as of yet, their special teams unit hasn’t been much more successful than its Bulldog counterpart, ranking eighth in the league in punt return average, 2.9 ypg, and seventh field goal percentage, 57%. The Quakers also rank fifth in punt return yards allowed with 33 ypg. This could be the X-factor that breaks the game open for Yale, especially if they get a big game from league-leading punt returner Gio Christodoulou ’11 and kick returner Chris Smith ’13.
Get sevens in the red zone
Against a tough defense like Penn’s, it’s imperative that the offense scores touchdowns instead of field goals, especially in the red zone. Holding an offense to a field goal after they’ve driven the ball within twenty yards of the goal line is a huge momentum boost for any defense. Though they have the Ivy League’s most prolific offense, Yale ranks last in red zone offense, scoring only 66.7 percent of the time. If this game proves to be a defensive struggle, the Elis will need every point they can get. The field goal unit hasn’t been particularly reliable this year, making it even more necessary that the offense puts six points on the board whenever they get a chance. Alex Thomas ’12 will return to carry the load for the Bulldogs on Saturday, giving the offense a consistent red zone threat. If the Penn defense goes all in to stop Thomas inside the twenty, look for Patrick Witt ’12 to get the ball to his big targets Jordan Forney ’11 and Chris Blohm ’11 in the red zone. Penn ranks fourth in red zone defense, giving up points 72.7 percent of the time.
Embrace the air attack
Patrick Witt ’12 leads the Ivy League in passing yards per game, and Gio Christodoulou ’11 and Jordan Forney ’11 are both top ten in the Ivy League in receiving yards. The Penn defense leads the league in rush defense, allowing only 69 yards per game, however they rank only sixth in pass defense efficiency. The Yale offensive line has had solid pass blocking this season thus far, and this game should be a perfect storm for Pat Witt ’12 and the Yale offense. Look for Alex Thomas ’12 to be a key contributor on offense, even if he isn’t taking handoffs; early in the season, the Bulldogs showed a tendency to get the ball to their backs on screens and passes out of the backfield. However, the Penn defense is tied for first in the league in sacks. It’s going to be a real battle in the trenches at the Bowl on Saturday, and should be fun to watch.
Yale leads the all-time series 44-32-1, but Penn has had the Elis’ number as of late, going on a 14-4 run in the past 18 years. In 2009, Penn won a defensive struggle 9-0.