As the Yale Bulldogs try to stay in contention for the Ivy League title on Saturday, they must be just as amped for this game as they should for their game in Cambridge in two weeks. While Yale still has a shot at the championship, Princeton’s season has been disastrous; the Tigers come into this matchup looking to play spoiler, with an 0–5 conference record, 1–7 overall.
Play inspired football
On paper, Saturday’s matchup looks like one of the easiest games the Elis will play all season. While first place Penn will host second-ranked Harvard in a game with league title implications, Yale hosts the lowly Tigers, who rank near the bottom of every statistic in the Ivy League. If the Crimson knock off the Quakers, the Harvard-Yale game two weeks from now will determine the Ivy League champions. However, Yale versus Princeton is still an important contest, and if the Bulldogs are caught looking forward to The Game, the Tigers could make the game a lot closer than it should be. Yale has the home-field advantage, feeding off the home crowd’s energy and playing disciplined football should be two of the top priorities for the Elis. Nothing gets the crowd into the game more than big plays from the home team. Princeton ranks sixth and eighth in the Ivy League in passing and rushing defense respectively, so head coach Tom Williams could have a great deal of success with aggressive offensive play-calling to start the game. Alex Thomas ’12 has come on strong in the past two weeks, rushing for 137 yards on 19 carries against Columbia and 121 yards on 27 carries against Brown. Look for Patrick Witt ’12 to try and get the ball to his most dynamic receiving threats, Gio Christodoulou ’11 and Chris Smith ’13.
Defense: Be opportunistic, force turnovers
The Tigers rank third in the Ivy League in terms of passing offense, and the Bulldogs are fifth in pass defense, giving up 221.8 yards per game. The Tigers will be the third top three-ranked receiving threat in as many weeks that the Bulldogs will face; senior wide receiver Trey Peacock is currently the Ivy League’s leading receiver, averaging about eight catches and 107 yards per game. Drew Baldwin ’12 and Adam Money ’11 will have to lock down on Peacock in order to force the Tigers to turn to their seventh ranked rushing offense. Turnovers will also be key on Saturday. Princeton has given the ball up 18 times, the most in the Ivy League, while the Bulldogs have forced 16 turnovers, ranking second in the conference. In the past two weeks, Yale’s secondary and linebacking corps have combined for two interceptions, 12 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Plays like these, early and often, will put the game out of reach for the Tigers and ensure an easy Bulldog win.
Continue making progress on special teams
The special teams unit needs to keep up their confidence level going into Cambridge next week. Philippe Panico ’13 has converted five straight field goal attempts after the Bulldogs started the season 1–7, and is 12 for 13 on extra point attempts. Carlsen has proved to be a viable option at punter, booming two punts for more than 50 yards on the season, and six landing inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. But Panico and Carlsen can’t carry the special teams themselves; a missed block on the punting unit, or turnover on a return could prove to be more devastating than any missed field goal or extra point. While the kicking units are getting on the right track, Chris Smith ’13 and the return teams are beginning to show their full potential. Smith put himself in the Yale record books last Saturday, with 79- and 83-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns and became the first Ivy League player to ever do so, breaking the Yale single-season kickoff return yardage record in the process. Punt returner Gio Christodoulou ’11 ranks third in the Ivy League in average punt return yardage. If the Bulldogs keep playing at this rate, they should be able to win the battle of field position against Princeton’s second-ranked punting unit and sixth-ranked kickoff coverage unit.
The Tigers and Bulldogs have met on the gridiron 132 times so far in the second-longest active rivalry in the nation. Yale leads the all-time series with Princeton 72-50-10. Last year, Princeton forced four Bulldog turnovers enroute to a 24–17 victory.