Play four quarters
In the Georgetown game last year, Yale dominated the first half by a score of 27–14. But the Elis allowed 21 unanswered points in the third quarter and needed a last-second touchdown dive from quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 to clinch a come-from-behind win. Such second-half hiccups characterized last season for the team. Against Columbia, the Elis ran up a commanding 31–7 lead at the half, but almost squandered it and won by a narrow 31–28 margin. In both those games, clutch late play carried the Blue to victory. But Yale was not so lucky after blowing a first-half, 14–7 lead against Harvard at The Game.
This year’s squad needs to win the locker room chess match so that it stays ahead of opposing teams even when they adjust to the Yale system at halftime. The Elis also have to learn to play with the same intensity in the third quarter that they do in the first, head coach Tom Williams said.
“Our guys now know how hard it is to win on Saturday,” Williams said. “Other guys won’t just fold up the tent and leave. We played some brilliant football last season, as good as I’ve seen it here. But we also played as bad as I’ve ever seen it. We have to execute down the stretch.”
Patrick Witt Air
Every preview of this year’s football team has put Witt front and center. He led the Ivy League in passing last year. He is entering his third season as the Yale starter. Fourteen NFL teams sent scouts to preseason practices to watch him throw. And Williams has called him the unquestioned leader of the offense.
“We’ve given him the keys to the car,” Williams said.
Those keys mean that Witt is being given more freedom this season to audible at the line of scrimmage. They mean that Williams expects to throw the ball downfield often this year. And they mean that Witt has to live up to the hype.
He will have the supporting cast to do so: Star receivers Gio Christodoulou ’12 and Chris Smith ’13 are both back from strong seasons last year and have dazzled in practice, according to Witt. Returning running backs Alex Thomas ’12 and Mordecai Cargill ’13 can both terrorize defenses, and should be able to buy Witt time on the play action by establishing a strong game on the ground.
Witt has already proven that he can be an elite passer. But he also has improvements to make — his 12 interceptions last season were tied for the Ivy lead. The Georgetown contest will be his first test as a senior leader.
Kicks, kicks, kicks
Last season, head coach Tom Williams likened himself to the little Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dyke: Every time he plugged one hole on his special teams, another would open up.
Yale watched its punts blocked, its field goal attempts sail wide and its kickoffs returned for touchdowns last season. Harvard’s final three scores at The Game all resulted directly from Yale’s special teams blunders. But the Elis have said the kicking game should improve this year, and early results justify that optimism. At last Saturday’s scrimmage with Dean College, Yale’s coverage unit looked solid, and kicker Phillippe Panico ’13 booted a 47-yard field goal that Williams said he would not even have attempted last season.
That improvement, Williams said, comes from experience. The team started a rookie punter, kick returner and long snapper last year. With experience and time together, the three have gelled and are earning the coaching staff’s trust. In the waning moments of a close football game — of which Yale played many last season — such trust is vital.
Yale has opened its season against Georgetown for the past four consecutive seasons and has won each time.