When 1,000 Army cadets march into the Yale Bowl tomorrow, and five more jump from a helicopter with parachutes to deliver the game ball, fans and players will be honoring not just the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl, but the history of an impressive nonleague rivalry.
The Yale football team (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) has played Army (1–2) 45 times since 1893, amassing a 21–16–8 record, with the most recent matchup taking place in 1996. Ten of those games brought crowds of over 70,000 to the Yale Bowl, and four of them have involved Heisman Trophy winners.
But members of the Yale team said that when the game kicks off at 1:00 p.m., this will be just another football game on their schedule, and it will not be an easy one.
“Army’s a tough team,” captain and wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 said. “They’re physical, they’re disciplined, and we expect them to come out with a lot of energy and play fast.”
The contest will mark the first time Yale has faced a team from Division-I’s top tier, the Football Bowl Subdivision, since 1996. Army comes into this game on a two-game losing streak, falling to then-No. 16 Stanford 35–0 and Wake Forest 24–21.
In addition to that challenge, Yale will be tasked with defending against Army’s triple option, an unusual running-based offense that can be difficult to defend against without experience.
The triple option gives Army quarterback Angel Santiago three choices after the snap, depending on the actions of the defense: either hand the ball off to a back down the middle, run the ball himself around the outside, or fake the run and pitch the ball to the running back behind him for a sweep.
Because the quarterback position is designed more for a runner than a thrower under the triple-option, Army rarely passes. The Black Knights are 14th in the FBS in rushing, but last out of 128 teams in passing. In Army’s most recent game against Wake Forest, the offense rushed for 341 yards and passed for just 18.
The Bulldogs have experience defending and succeeding against a triple option offense, as they held Cal Poly’s offense to just 10 points last year. Head coach Tony Reno said that Army’s offense will still pose a challenge to Yale.
“[The triple option] presents issues for the defense,” Reno said. “[Army has] a lot of speed, their backs are physically able to handle the pounding, and they have a big offensive line up front.”
Randall added that the defense has been preparing for Army’s offensive scheme since training camp began.
Because of weight requirements that the U.S. Military Academy imposes on all students, Army does not overpower teams with sheer mass. Its offensive line averages 285 pounds, for example, while that of Yale, a Division-I Football Championship Subdivision team, is 291, according to online rosters.
Former Yale head coach Carm Cozza, who coached multiple teams that played Army, said that other physical factors are just as significant.
“First off, you’re not going to out-condition [Army]. They start marching in July,” Cozza said. “Secondly, every game, every play, it’s like it’s their last play. Whether they’re up 50 or down 50, you’ve got to be ready to play, every down.”
Defensively, the cadets have allowed more than 20 points to each of their three opponents this year, although it is difficult to compare the FBS opponents on Army’s schedule to an FCS team such as Yale.
Regardless of the defense Army brings to the table tomorrow, the Eli offense will be heading into the game with momentum.
Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 passed for 376 yards in Yale’s win over Lehigh, tallying four touchdowns through the air and rushing for another. In total, the Bulldogs racked up 683 total yards of offense and 54 points, the most that they have had in a game since 2003.
“Last week was a big week for us offensively, and we were able to do things that we haven’t done at Yale for a long time,” Randall said. “But we’re approaching this week differently. If we stick to the process, we’ll get the outcome that we want.”
Though Army is in a higher subdivision than Yale and will not have the same Yale Bowl history to reflect on, the two teams both had a strong desire to make the game happen.
Initial planning began in 2009, and Army needed to go through a long waiver process with the NCAA to make the matchup count for bowl game consideration.
Army and Yale will kick off at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.