Yale opens its football season at home on Saturday against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. In order to beat their Patriot League foe, the Bulldogs have to execute on both sides of the ball. That means keeping playmakers involved on offense, protecting the quarterback and preventing Lehigh’s signal-caller from racking up yards on the ground.
Get your playmakers involved
Both head coach Tony Reno and quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 have compared the quarterback’s role in Reno’s no-huddle approach to that of a distributor. Rather than being left alone to make plays and change the game, Roberts hopes to be more of a point guard, picking up assists in the form of quick passes and finding players in space.
That understanding requires the Bulldogs to have dynamic options both in the backfield and out wide. The combination of captain Deon Randall ’15 and running back Tyler Varga ’15 could very well fit the bill. Randall caught 85 passes last year and racked up 1,021 all-purpose yards, earning first-team All-Ivy honors. His versatility — he lined up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide last year — should cause matchup problems for the Mountain Hawks.
Varga, meanwhile, has proven to be a dangerous runner when healthy. In 2012, he led the nation with 194.2 all-purpose yards per game, including 220 yards on the ground against Columbia. Before an injury derailed his 2013 campaign, he racked up 607 yards in just five games.
Other receivers, such as Grant Wallace ’15 and Robert Clemons ’17, will likely make their presence felt as well. Wallace finished with a receiver-best 13.6 yards per catch in 2013, while Clemons totaled 579 kick return yards and is now listed as a starter at receiver.
Keep the pocket clean
Yale’s offensive line last year was the only unit in the Ivy League to have the same five starters for the entire season. With the graduation of two stalwarts — center John Oppenheimer ’14 and tackle Wes Gavin ’14 — and the shift of Luke Longinotti ’16 from guard to center, the Bulldogs will run their offense behind a new-look line.
That is potentially bad news for Roberts, Varga and the rest of the offense. Should the offensive line show any cracks, Roberts could find himself submerged in a flood of Mountain Hawk pass rushers.
Roberts, however, complimented the offensive line, saying that he expects the group to be very good this season. In order to validate his faith, the line will need to limit or eliminate missed blocks, communicate well before the snap and keep Roberts standing long enough to complete his passes.
Contain the quarterback
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
The above quotation from Charles Dickens accurately describes Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky’s 2014 season thus far. In the season opener, Shafnisky threw for 217 yards and ran for 121 more, earning a reputation as a dual threat.
But a week later, against No. 7 New Hampshire, Shafnisky was largely rendered irrelevant, putting up just 106 passing yards on 28 attempts and mustering four rushing yards on 14 carries.
If the Elis hope to come away with a victory over the Mountain Hawks, the defensive front seven will have to contain Shafnisky and limit his ability to scramble. Rendering him one-dimensional will help the secondary, led by cornerback Foyesade Oluokun ’17 and safeties Robert Ries ’17 and Cole Champion ’16, focus on shutting down receivers rather than accounting for Shafnisky down the field.