The Yale football team matches up with Columbia tomorrow in hopes of surpassing its 2013 win total with a sixth victory this season. The Bulldogs are heavily favored to defeat a winless Lions team with a 31 point average margin of defeat, but a focused effort will still be required to assure a victory over the Lions. If the Elis continue to seek improvement, avoid big plays and look to create turnovers, they can emerge victorious in Manhattan.

STAY HUNGRY

So far this season, much of Yale’s success can be credited to its refusal to be complacent offensively. The Bulldogs have scored over 40 points in five of their six games by continuing to spread the ball around and speeding up their hurry-up offense, while quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 is getting more and more accurate with each game.

Despite that success, head coach Tony Reno has preached all season about the importance of continued improvement. Against a Columbia squad that looks weak on paper, that attitude towards improvement will be the key to avoiding an upset.

As the Bulldogs remember from their 2012 upset victory over Penn — in which Yale’s only Ivy win was also the Quakers’ only conference loss — upsets can happen, no matter how surprising. If Yale comes into the matchup tomorrow with the same mind-set as it has for its five wins, it almost surely can come away with a victory. Anything less, however, has the potential to blow Yale’s chances at an Ivy League championship in what appears to be the most likely win of the season.

AVOID BIG PLAYS

Of all the players on Columbia’s roster, quarterback Trevor McDonagh seems to be the biggest potential threat to Yale’s inconsistent defense. Just two-and-a-half games into being the Lions’ primary passer, McDonagh has seen significantly improved results over his predecessor, Brett Nottingham. He passed for four touchdowns in the second half of the Lions’ game against Monmouth, and then tallied just one in each of his next two games but still managed to combine for 548 passing yards in those two starts.

The major problem with Yale’s defense recently has been giving up big plays, and that certainly poses a potential problem against a quarterback who is heating up in his first weeks as a starter. In the Elis’ sole loss of 2014, Dartmouth connected on a pair of touchdown passes of 30 yards or more, and Penn had three such plays for scores in last Saturday’s game.

Facing the recent injury of cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’17, Yale will need to focus on defending the deep pass if it hopes to shut down the Lions.

FORCE TAKEAWAYS

McDonagh may be passing for more yards and touchdowns than Nottingham, but he has retained the former starter’s tendency to throw the ball into defenders’ hands. McDonagh threw an interception in his second drive before those four touchdowns against Monmouth, and he was picked off twice against Dartmouth last week to end a pair of key possessions.

On the other hand, Rymiszewski’s injury figures to throw a wrench in the secondary’s plans to harass McDonagh. The sophomore has two of Yale’s five interceptions on the season, and defensive back Jason Alessi ’18 will have to replace Rymiszewski in the defensive backfield despite only having appeared in four games this season.

If Columbia’s offense is able to build up any momentum during this contest, the Bulldogs should seek to cut it short with a turnover.