The football team begins its season this weekend against Lehigh, a team that scored nearly 32 points a game last year en route to an 8–3 record. That strong offense, which has scored 27 and 28 points in its first two games this season, figures to be a tough task for a Bulldog defense that ranked sixth in conference in yards allowed last season.

The challenge will be compounded by the fact that the Elis lost their top defensive lineman, Dylan Drake ’14, to graduation after last season. That loss means that the Bulldogs will have to rely even more on the returning members of the front line. To that end, all eyes will be on defensive tackle Copache Tyler ’17 — who won the Charles Loftus Award, given to Yale’s most valuable freshmen, last year — as he plays a guiding position in the trenches.

“Copache has a few roles on the team, but his main role is leading our defense in stopping the run,” linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said. “Our defense prides itself on limiting each of our opponents ability to run the football, and Copache is one of the main reasons we are able to do that.”

His statistics from last season reflect his run-stopping ability. In his freshman year, the Springfield, Illinois native started all 10 of the Elis’ games, notching 33 tackles and one forced fumble over the course of the season.

Tyler announced himself as a player to watch midway through the season in the Bulldogs’ Oct. 26 matchup against Penn. In that game, he recorded six total tackles, including four solo tackles and two assists.

“I can say that Copache, as well as the whole defensive line is an essential part of our team,” defensive back Foyesade Oluokun ’17 said. “When they play well it allows our defense to do good things on the field because it is easier to stop the run, and pressure on the quarterback allows for easier coverage in the secondary.”

This year, the defensive line will play as part of an overall young defensive unit that last year featured eight freshmen — now sophomores — that played in eight or more games. With another year of experience under their belts, the line certainly looks to grow as a unit. Tyler did not miss a single game last season, a durability that allowed him to rack up experience on the field.

The only lineman to win the Charles Loftus Award last year, Tyler impressed his teammates with the strength of his game.

“Copache is a game changer on the field,” Manora said. “He has the ability to shut down an entire side of the line of scrimmage with his strength. I have the opportunity to play behind him and he honestly makes my job easier by destroying our opponents’ offensive line and often making the tackle before the offense reaches the line of scrimmage.”

The defense will certainly rely on Tyler to stop the run this season, as the squad allowed 173 yards per game on the ground last year, sixth in the Ivy League.

Tyler and the rest of the Bulldog team will take the field for the first time this season on Saturday against Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks (0–2, 0–0 Patriot League) face Yale (0–0, 0–0 Ivy League) in New Haven for the first time since 2007. Although Lehigh comes into the weekend on a two-game losing streak, the Mountain Hawks remain a dangerous team, having averaged 446.4 yards per game last season, the second best offense in the Patriot League.

Kickoff at the Yale Bowl is scheduled for 1 p.m.