Throughout most of its first six games of the season, the Yale football team became accustomed to high-scoring, fast-paced games with a powerful offense but inconsistent defense.
The Bulldogs (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) used a different strategy against winless Columbia (0–7, 0–4) on Saturday, putting up both the fewest points they have scored this season and the fewest points the Lions have allowed this year.
But Yale managed to win 25–7, and retain control of its own destiny in the Ivy League, thanks to its best defensive performance of the year, including four interceptions thrown by Columbia quarterback Trevor McDonagh.
“I thought we left some points on the field,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Defensively, though, we came up with some stops and some huge turnovers, which allowed us to get some short fields and then convert on some field goal opportunities.”
Running back Tyler Varga ’15 scored the Elis’ only two touchdowns in the first half, and kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 took over the rest of Yale’s scoring with four field goals on six attempts — tied for the most field goals Yale has scored in a game since 1884.
Yale used its kicker largely because of its inability to convert in the red zone. The Bulldogs put up 586 total yards of offense and got inside Columbia’s 20-yard line nine times, though all but two of those attempts were either held to a field goal opportunity, turned over on downs or ended due to time.
“We weren’t focusing on playing against ourselves and finishing those drives,” running back Candler Rich ’17 said. “While we may have had the yards, we expect more out of ourselves as far as getting into the end zone.”
Rich would best know about the number of yards the Elis had — he rushed for a career-high 202 of them on 17 carries — the first time this season that he has rushed for more yards than Varga. His total was also the second most rushing yards an Ivy League player has had this season.
Yale did everything it could do with the win, but a few hours after the game, the Bulldogs received another piece of good news when Harvard forced Dartmouth’s first loss in Hanover, New Hampshire, leaving the Crimson as the only undefeated team remaining in the Ancient Eight.
Though not an easy feat, wins over Brown (4–3, 2–2), Princeton (4–3, 3–1) and the currently undefeated Harvard (7–0, 4–0) would now guarantee the Elis at least a share of the Ivy title.
But Reno said that the offense’s performance in New York has left him unsatisfied with the Bulldogs’ six wins, already the most they have had in a season since 2010.
“The one piece, moving on, that we’ve got to grow from … is finishing drives off. That’s what we didn’t do today that we did do the first six weeks,” Reno said. “I’m not happy at all with where we can be.”
Reno added that many of the red zone attempts were cut short due to mental errors such as penalties, errors on routes or fumbles.
Part of the issue was also the relative ineffectiveness of the Eli running game, a central part of Yale’s red zone attack. The Lions did a better job stopping the rush than most of Yale’s opponents have, perhaps because a weakened passing attack made running plays more predictable.
Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 completed just 21 of 42 attempts for 267 yards and no touchdowns, all season-low figures. Temperatures in the mid-40s and rainy weather seemed to cause inaccurate throws and drops for both teams.
McDonagh also suffered through the weather in his third start of the season, going just 19–47 and adding four interceptions to his season total of seven. His lone touchdown pass was also the lone red zone chance that Columbia had, a fourth quarter pass to wide receiver Ryan Flannery in the back of the end zone.
Three of those interceptions were by freshmen, including cornerback Jason Alessi ’18, who started in place of the injured Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and picked off two passes in the second half. Safeties Foye Oluokun ’17 and Hayden Carlson ’18 had the others.
“You never want to see something like [Rymiszewski’s injury] happen,” Alessi said. “It was tough for the first two or three days, just to overcome that. But then it’s the next man up. That’s a philosophy we have here. You just have to be ready when your number gets called.”
Yale will next play in Providence aagainst Brown next Saturday.