The Yale football team’s final non-league contest tomorrow against Colgate may not impact the Ivy League standings, but it will be a key game for the Bulldogs for another reason: It will be a chance for Yale to reaffirm itself as a Division I FCS power.
The Bulldogs’ offense entered last week as the nation’s best, but it had its worst game yet in the 38–31 loss to Dartmouth-the second straight time that the Big Green has snapped a 3–0 start for Yale. Last year, the Elis lost their momentum after the Dartmouth game and ended with a 5–5 record on the season. The Bulldogs (3–1, 1–1 Ivy) will butt heads with Colgate (4–2, 2–0 Patriot) at the Yale Bowl tomorrow looking for a win to stop that from happening again.
“We certainly struggled mightily in the second half [against Dartmouth], and it was apparent that we killed ourselves on multiple drives with mental errors,” quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 said. “We have corrected those errors, and now we have moved on to preparing for a very good Colgate defense.”
Roberts added that the team has not thought about the parallels to last season. The team’s goals have not been compromised by one loss, he said.
Yale bested Colgate 39–22 in its first game of 2013, led by a career-best 236 yard rushing performance from tailback Tyler Varga ’15. But the Raiders have not lost to an Ancient Eight team since then, and they enter the game riding a four-game winning streak this season, already tying their 2013 win total of four.
Of Colgate’s four wins this season, perhaps most notable is the Raiders’ 31–30 triumph against Princeton last week, where a missed two-point conversion was the difference. The Tigers were the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League.
“Colgate’s a good team, a team that’s played a very competitive schedule,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’ve got a major test ahead of us, but that’s what we want to do. We feel [playing tough competition] is going to help us in the end.”
While Yale’s spread offense has featured highlights from many weapons this season, the Raiders’ attack has largely been centered on one player: quarterback Jake Melville.
The sophomore is a threat both with his arm and his legs, leading the team with 451 rushing yards and 888 passing yards in his first year with the starting job. Melville conducts his offense in a similar fashion as Dartmouth’s Dalyn Williams, against whom the Eli defense got experience defending last week.
In that game, it was Williams’ speed that caused many of Yale’s problems on the defensive side of the ball. While he rushed for just 13 net yards, the threat of rushing, as well as his ability to scramble out of pressure on many plays, allowed his receivers to get open downfield for a total of 388 passing yards.
“When you have a scrambling quarterback, you have to lock on your man,” defensive back Foyesade Oluokun ’17 said. “The problem is sometimes you think he’s going to run and you move off your man, and then at that moment he pops up and throws it, so it’s really big to be disciplined. Trusting the rest of the defense to stop the run, that’s the challenge.”
Offensively, the Elis will look for a return to the powerful offense that had led all of Division I football in both points and total offensive yards until a week ago.
Though Yale put up 31 points in the loss to Dartmouth, only seven of them came in the second half, in which the Bulldogs were two for seven on third down conversions.
Yale also surrendered three interceptions in the game and was called on six penalties for 60 yards.
“We felt like we let one slip away,” Reno said. “We had two or three opportunities at the start of the second half to throw the knockout punch and finish them off, and we didn’t do it. We had it again in the fourth quarter, a chance to finish them off, and we didn’t do it.”
Whatever the result of the game, it will help add context to the true potential of the Yale team.
Yale was ranked fifth in the Ivy League preseason poll in August and seemed to be outperforming that ranking, until last week’s loss brought a reality check to the undefeated squad.
When asked about his thoughts on the Bulldogs’ title chances, Reno said that new heights for the Bulldogs are possible, but far from certain.
“I think we have a realistic opportunity to achieve our goals,” Reno said. “We’re not where I want us to be yet. I think we have to prove we belong in the upper level, and we haven’t proven that yet. I feel we have the ability to compete with those teams every week and be successful.”
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.