The last time Georgetown (2–0) visited the Yale Bowl, the Yale football team needed a last–second quarterback sneak to seal the victory, despite a 13–point lead at halftime and over 500 yards of total offense.
But this year’s Elis, with seasoned playmakers on both sides of the ball, are expected to be a much more formidable opponent as they begin the quest for the Ivy League championship this Saturday against the Hoyas.
The spotlight will be on quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, who passed for 407 yards and two touchdowns against Georgetown last year, and an explosive Yale offense that ranked third in the Ancient Eight in 2010. Witt, now in his third year as the starter, has the potential to be an even more dangerous passer.
“I’m more comfortable in my role,” he said. “Now when I step into the huddle, I’m less concerned with how I’m doing and more with how the team is doing and how I can help us to improve.”
And Witt has plenty of targets to throw to.
The dynamic receiver duo of Gio Christodoulou ’12 and Chris Smith ’13, who combined for 84 catches and 1,015 yards last season, should thrive against a Georgetown secondary that allowed a 62 percent pass completion rate for opposing signal callers through its two games so far this year.
Though the Bulldogs lost two key pass catchers in Jordan Forney ’11 and tight end Chris Blohm ’11, others will step up and take their place.
Deon Randall ’14, a running back, is expected to become a bigger part of the passing game after impressing the coaching staff with his speed and versatility. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year, a team high, and returned eight kickoffs for a total of 219 yards.
“He’s a weapon we have on the field,” head coach Tom Williams said. “We have to try to get him the ball as often as we can, wherever we can.”
But passing will not be Williams’ only option when calling plays.
Randall joins multiyear starters Alex Thomas ’12 and Mordecai Cargill ’13, as well as key backup Javi Sosa ’13, in a crowded backfield that will try to pound the ball up the middle as the defenders focus on Witt and his receivers, according to Thomas, who ran for 90 yards and two scores in the team’s last meeting against the Hoyas.
“Having a great quarterback is something every running back wants,” Thomas said. “The defense will definitely be game planning against [Witt] and keying in on the passing game. As a running back, you have to take advantage of that.”
Thomas and his fellow backs face a run defense that has suffocated its opponents so far. The Hoyas gave up an average of 56 yards and no score on the ground in its two games.
A balanced offense is critical to the Bulldogs’ success this year. In the loss against Penn last season, the Quakers stuffed the Yale running game early and forced a one-dimensional passing offense that had trouble finding the end zone.
But Witt is confident that the backs will find their rhythm.
“These guys are going to run hard north to south and get those tough yards,” he said.
On the defensive side, captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12, who recovered a Hoyas fumble and ran for a touchdown in 2010, spearheads a loaded defense with nine returning starters.
The Bulldog defensive unit’s biggest challenge on game day is dual–threat quarterback Isaiah Kempf, who ranks second on the team with 82 rushing yards and four scores in two games.
Kempf’s biggest weapon is junior wideout Max Waizenegger, whose two touchdown receptions against Lafayette College lifted the Hoyas to their second victory of the season. Last year, Waizenegger finished second on the team with 283 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“As a defense, we must take [Kempf] out of his comfort zone and pressure him in order to disrupt his timing, while also limiting the damage he can do with his feet,” safety Geoff Dunham ’12 said.
Dunham anchors a disruptive secondary that intercepted 10 passes last year, fourth in the Ivy League, and often made big plays in critical moments. Defensive turnovers were critical in the team’s wins against Princeton, Fordham and Dartmouth last season. Combined with an aggressive front seven that features six returning starters, the Elis hope to keep forcing the turnovers that were critical to the defense’s success last season.
“While we lost some key playmakers, we have some very talented guys filling in,” Dunham said. “The defense is still full of weapons and we should see more big plays this season.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the game on Saturday will be the special teams units that struggled in kicking and return coverage throughout the 2010 campaign.
In the season opener, Georgetown blocked two field goals and started the second half with a kickoff return touchdown, sparking the Hoyas’ comeback. That began a nightmarish season for the special teams, whose mistakes often swung the momentum in favor of the Bulldogs’ opponents.
“We were inconsistent on everything,” Williams said. “I felt like the little Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dyke. Every time I tried to fix one thing, something else broke down.”
Part of the struggles came from the team fielding a new snapper, punter and kicker, who had little time to work together and develop the chemistry needed for consistent play.
But the kicking game seems to be much improved after spring practice and the preseason. Philippe Panico ’13 nailed a 47–yard field goal in a scrimmage win over Dean College.
The Bulldogs are optimistic that the season opener against Georgetown will mark the beginning of a successful year.
“We are definitely very excited to get the season started,” Smith said. “We made it our goal to win the Ivy League championship.”
Kickoff is slated for noon at the Yale Bowl.