The Yale football team has started off its 2014 season strong, putting up historic offensive numbers in wins over its first two opponents: Lehigh and Army.
But none of that success matters in the Ivy League standings unless it converts to wins in conference play, which the Bulldogs will begin tomorrow at Cornell.
Cornell (0–2, 0–0 Ivy) is winless heading into its home opener, following losses to Colgate and Bucknell.
Still, the last time Yale played at Schoellkopf Field in 2012, the Big Red took a decisive 45–6 victory.
“They’ve played two good teams [this season], and everyone in the Ivy League knows that Cornell plays very, very well at home,” Head Coach Tony Reno said.
Following Yale’s upset victory over Army this past weekend — the first time an Ivy team has defeated a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since 1986 — the Bulldogs positioned themselves as one of the top teams to beat in the Ivy League.
Yale was just one of two Ivy League teams, along with Harvard, to get votes in this week’s Football Championship Subdivision national coaches’ poll. The Elis and the Crimson received nine and 15 votes, respectively.
Still, the rest of the season is far from certain. Yale was in the same situation at about this time last season, when the Bulldogs received votes after beating Cal Poly. But in the latter portion of the season, the Elis lost five of their final seven games.
“We’re a much more mature team this year. Last year was a lesson to us to not get complacent, and we’ve learned from that,” captain and wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 said.
The Big Red’s main strength this season has been its defense. Meanwhile, the graduation of quarterback Jeff Mathews has raised unanswered questions about the Cornell offense.
While Cornell’s passing attack was a major offensive threat in the Ivy League last year, the loss of Mathews — who broke the Ivy League record for passing yards in a career during his four years — has left the squad with large shoes to fill.
Two games in, the team is not yet sure who will fill those shoes, as three quarterbacks have seen time under center, including two freshmen. Junior quarterback James Few was the starter at the beginning of the season but missed last week’s game at Bucknell due to injury.
That combination of quarterbacks has thrown for an average of just one touchdown and 138.5 yards per game — the lowest figure in the Ivy League — through Cornell’s first two contests.
The blow to the passing game has also forced Cornell to rely more on the rush. While running back Luke Hagy averaged just 11 attempts for 36 yards last season, he has 28 carries for 121 yards this year, and two other backs also have more than 10 carries for Cornell.
Despite Cornell’s seventh place ranking in the Ivy League preseason polls, and lack of results thus far in the season, Reno predicted a tough opponent.
“In Ivy League games, there are three or four plays that influence the game, because the teams are very evenly matched,” Reno said. “You need to be able to win those plays.”
Reno added that defensively, Cornell is much stronger this year than it was in 2013, the first season under head coach David Archer. Archer is also the youngest head coach in Division-I football.
He noted the size of the Big Red’s secondary, which is currently top in the conference with 156.5 passing yards allowed per game. Against the run, however, Cornell’s 3–4 defense has been weaker, allowing over 230 yards of rushing to each of its first two opponents.
Yale, meanwhile, finds itself in the opposite situation, as the Elis offense has proven itself through two games, but questions remain on the strength of the Bulldogs’ defense. So far this season, the Bulldogs have produced 1,308 total yards of offense, but have allowed 1,118 yards defensively.
Linebacker Charles Cook ’15 said that after allowing 43 points last week against Army, but making four consecutive big stops to end the game, Yale’s defense is focusing on consistency for the rest of the season.
“A lot of what we talk about on defense is that we’ve seen spurts of us playing Yale defense, the defense that we want to be,” Cook said. “It’s just about being more consistent … On defense, if 10 guys do their job correctly, and one guy stays out of his gap, then it’s a busted play.”
Yale and Cornell will kick off in Ithaca, N.Y. at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow.