Less than a week removed from a comfortable victory over Columbia, the Yale football team looks to climb back into Ivy contention on Saturday against the Brown Bears at the Yale Bowl.
Though the Bulldogs (4–3, 2–2 Ivy) lost to Brown (5–2, 2–2) in a 20–0 shutout last year, injuries suffered both before and during the game played a big role in the loss. Perhaps more importantly, head coach Tony Reno thinks the squad bears little resemblance to last season’s team.
“Last year, we had to fit our personnel,” Reno said. “Now we’re a totally different team.”
In Yale’s game against Columbia, the Elis walked all over the Lions, with both Kahlil Keys ’15 and Candler Rich ’17 topping 100 rushing yards. Keys also set a modern-day school record with a 94-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
The passing game, buoyed by the return of injured starter Hank Furman ’14, also played a role in taming the Lions. Furman posted a hyper-efficient outing, going 22-30 for 275 yards and three touchdown passes, including a 50-yard strike to receiver Grant Wallace ’15.
“Hank is a great team leader,” defensive end Dylan Drake ’14 said. “The defense gets confidence knowing the offense is going to do [its] job when he’s in there.”
The Bears stunned Penn 27–0 last Saturday, dealing the Quakers their first Ivy loss of the season. Brown running back John Spooney flashed his breakaway speed with two touchdown runs of over 90 yards, and the Bears’ ground game put up 291 yards total on a Penn defense that had allowed just 157.8 rushing yards per game prior to the contest.
Spooney is the defending Ivy League 100-meter dash champion, winning the conference title in a school-record 10.37 seconds. According to Reno, containing Spooney and forcing Brown into third-and-long situations will be essential to winning this week’s game.
“[Spooney] is an explosive one-cut back,” Drake said. “We have to tackle well … we can’t let him run through arm tackles.”
Stopping the Brown passing game will be important as well. Brown quarterback Patrick Donnelly has completed 68.7 percent of his passes this year, and if he can keep the Bears moving through the air, Spooney and the rest of the running game will be ever harder to stop.
Drake said that the Elis will need to watch out for the Bears’ tendency to move the quarterback around and their “unconventional” passing tactics.
“I think it starts at pass rush,” Drake said of stopping Donnelly. “We need to be good in all three levels, from a good pass rush and linebackers good in coverage to the secondary communicating well.”
The Bears have a penchant for quick starts, as nearly 70 percent of their points have been scored in the first half. Yet at the same time, the Bears have scored just 10 points combined in the second halves of their two losses.
Another question facing the Bulldogs is the status of two of their injured playmakers, running back Tyler Varga ’15 and wideout Chris Smith ’14. Both have missed multiple weeks, and their returns would bolster the Yale offense. In Yale’s last victory over Brown, which came in 2010, Smith returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, a first in Ivy history. Both are officially listed as day-to-day.
“Tyler and Chris will find out on Friday if they can go or not,” Reno said.
While injuries have hurt the Elis this season, they have also provided Yale with an opportunity to showcase its depth. Rich has rushed for 357 yards in the last three games, and Wallace has been big in Smith’s absence.
Even with this abundance of depth, Furman and the rest of the team understand that they cannot overlook this game.
“Brown is a great team, and if we don’t focus all our energy toward this weekend we’ll slip,” Furman said in an email to the News. “The senior class has only a few games remaining, we wouldn’t want to regret anything.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon from the Yale Bowl.