A week ago, the football team’s hopes for an Ivy league title hope received an unexpected boost from Brown.
The Bears (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) snapped Penn’s 18-game Ivy League win streak, beating the Quakers 6–0 in torrential rains. The loss dropped Penn into a tie with Brown and Yale (4–3, 3–1 Ivy) for second place in the Ancient Eight.
The Bulldogs will have a chance to clear the logjam at the top of the Ivy standings on Saturday when they take on Brown at the Yale Bowl. The winner of this weekend’s match-up will be one step closer to the Ivy League Championship, which has eluded the Elis since 2006 and the Bears since 2008.
“Every game for the rest of the year is pretty much the biggest game of our season,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “You have to win every single one the rest of the way to [win the league title].”
Brown features the toughest defense the Bulldogs have to face so far this season. The Bears are giving up only 14.6 points a game, the best among Ivy League schools.
For quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, throwing against the Bears’ secondary may be just as difficult as becoming a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. Brown has allowed an average of 174.7 passing yards per game and just six touchdowns through the air.
Brown’s outside linebacker Dan Smithwick has disrupted opposing team’s passing games all season long. The senior leads the Ancient Eight with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
However, the return of three inured starters should buoy the Blue and White offense.
Right tackle Roy Collins ’13 and wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 are expected to be back on the field. Running back Alex Thomas ’12, who hurt his posterior cruciate ligament against Penn, might see limited game time actions. Football head coach Tom Williams attributed the string of recent injuries to the lack of a bye week in the Ivy League schedule.
“It’s really a battle of attrition, literally, because there are 10weeks [in the season], and it’s a sprint to the end,” he said. “You just have to do the best you can in terms of getting the next guy ready to play.”
Both Thomas and Smith played critical roles in the Bulldogs’ 27–24 victory over the Bears in Providence last season.
Thomas carried the ball 27 times for 121 yards, including a 27-yard scoring scamper, while Smith returned two Brown kickoffs for touchdowns. Philippe Panico ’13 booted the game winning 36-yard field goal with 9:36 left.
So far this season, the Bulldogs’ return units have thrived once again. Smith is averaging 25.8 return yards on kickoffs, which is almost on par with the 27.1 average he put up last year. Gio Christodoulou ’12 leads the Ancient Eight in punt return yardage, averaging 11.9 yards.
Unlike other teams, the Bulldogs field some of their best and biggest defensive players on return units.
The trio of Reed Spiller ’12, Jake Stoller ’12 and Pat Moran ’12 line up across from each other on kickoff, allowing linebacker and lead blocker Wes Moyer ’12 a chance to open up a path for Smith. The three defensive tackles also play on the punt units, responsible for protecting the punter and taking down the other team’s returner.
“I think the advantage that we have is that our big guys can run well,” Williams said. “You try to take advantage of the combination of size and speed.”
But these defensive stalwarts will have their hands full on game day against a potent Bears offense.
Brown’s quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero averages 231 passing yards a game, has thrown 11 passing touchdowns and has scored four more scores on the ground. The senior signal caller has a group of dangerous receivers to whom to throw the ball.
“The pass game is more complicated from Brown,” Williams said. “They do a very nice job with their pass routes [and] put multiple receivers in one area so the quarterback has many options.”
Six different Brown receivers have caught at least a touchdown this year. Junior wideout Tellef Lundeval leads the team with four passing scores and ranks second in the Ivy League in receptions per game.
Brown’s passing schemes thrive on misdirection and trick plays. For example, in several games this season, the Bears have slid their tight end into the tackle position, moving that tackle onto the other side of the offensive line. This gives Brown an opportunity to try to overwhelm Yale’s defense by fielding an extra blocker on one side of its formation.
“All week we have been working on coverage checks depending on the different formations and personnel that Brown puts on the field,” safety Nick Okano ’14 said. “We feel that depending on what formation they come out in or shift to, we have the coverage to put our guys in a position to make plays.”