After overcoming a rusty start in its season opener against Georgetown, the football team will face much higher stakes this weekend.

The Bulldogs (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) will take on Cornell (1–0, 0–0) at the Yale Bowl on Saturday to kick off Ivy League play in what will be the 74th meeting between the two teams. Though the Elis lost two of their last three meetings with the Big Red, they thrashed Cornell last season 21–7 in Ithaca, thanks to a dominating performance by the Blue and White defense, which held Cornell to 270 total yards, with just 22 coming on the ground.

A disruptive Yale defensive line took down freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews four times and notched nine tackles for losses last year, and a strong showing from the defensive line could once again be key for the Bulldogs on game day. “Aggressiveness is definitely something our defensive line takes pride in,” safety Geoff Dunham ’12 said. “Their ability to get to the quarterback and disrupt his timing makes everyone else’s job much easier and creates more opportunities for fumbles or interceptions.”

The defense looked a step behind the Hoyas offense last weekend, allowing 231 yards of total offense in the first half and failing to generate a consistent pass rush on the opposing signal caller. Pressuring the quarterback will be even more critical on Saturday since the Big Red’s offense relies heavily on the passing game.

In the season opener against Bucknell (2–1), Mathews, a unanimous choice for last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, threw for 332 yards along with a pair of touchdowns en route to a 24–13 win. By comparison, Cornell’s run game totaled a measly 50 yards and averaged less than two yards per carry.

“We have to keep [Mathews] from being comfortable and change our coverage a little bit,” head coach Tom Williams said. “[We can’t have] him staring at the same picture all the time. We have to be aggressive on the receivers and not let them have the cushions downfield.”

Several of the Bulldogs’ big defensive stops against Georgetown were wiped out by penalties, a problem that plagued the entire team. The Elis were flagged 13 times, one shy of a school record, for 118 yards while Cornell was penalized just six times against the Bison.

Williams said that many of the penalties were caused by players not being up to the tempo of the game, a problem that can be solved with more game-time experiences.

“We make no excuses for the penalties because there were too many of them,” he said. “[But] it takes some time to adjust to the speed of the game. At least half of the penalties are procedural ones that can be eliminated after game one.”

The defense could also use some help from the offense, which was just five for 13 on third-down conversions last week. But the Bulldogs were able to take full advantage of the five conversions by scoring on those drives.

“The offense can definitely help out the defense by sustaining drives, and we feel very confident that we have an offense that can do just that,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “We have explosive players across the board on offense, and we couldn’t be more confident in their abilities to put together scoring drives.”

Patrick Witt ’12, who was named the Ivy League Co-Offensive Player of the Week after throwing three scores and running for another against the Hoyas, leads an explosive passing game that will pose plenty of problems for the Cornell secondary.

But Witt will try to avoid the costly interceptions that often shifted momentum to other teams last year. The Big Red picked him off twice in the first half last year and was able to tie the score at halftime despite the Bulldogs’ advantage in almost every statistical category.

To help Witt and the passing game out, the Elis will look to establish their running game early on Saturday. Georgetown held the Yale backfield to 25 yards on 10 carries in the first half.

Last year’s game against Cornell should serve as a blueprint for the Yale running attack. Alex Thomas ’12 and Mordecai Cargill ’13 combined for 213 yards on the ground, including a 47-yard dash by Thomas in third quarter from deep within Yale territory.

Thomas and Cargill might have a harder time running the ball this time around, though. The Cornell run defense appears to be much improved, as the Big Red held Bucknell, which averaged 133 rushing yards in its previous two games, to 59 yards on 33 carries last weekend.

But Williams emphasized that flexibility will be the key to the offensive game plan.

“We will take what the defense gives us,” he said. “We feel like we got the versatility to attack the defense in any way that gives us an opening.”

The Bulldogs hope that Cornell will be the first step toward an eventual Ivy League championship, a title that Yale has not won since 2006.

“Being the Ivy League opener, we want to set the tone for the rest of the season,” Haynes said. “We need every one of these [games] to get to that ring at the end of the season, and we’re excited for the challenge on Saturday.”

Kickoff is at noon.