The Yale football team goes head-to-head with Princeton tomorrow, with hopes of keeping its Ivy League championship run alive at the Yale Bowl. The preseason Ivy League favorite remains a strong opponent, but many games this season have shown that the Tigers are not necessarily the powerhouse that they were last year. If the Bulldogs can block up front, score on big plays and rush the pocket on defense, they will have a good chance at coming away with a victory.
PROTECT THE BACKFIELD
Princeton may rank just fourth in the Ivy League in points allowed per game, but its defensive line very well could be better than any the Elis have faced this season. The Tigers’ young unit has punished running backs and quarterbacks alike all season and the team has the numbers to show for it — a league-leading 24 sacks and just 87.9 rushing yards allowed per game, second best in the conference. What’s more, the Princeton line rides plenty of momentum heading into tomorrow after allowing just six net rushing yards to Penn last week.
In recent games, Yale skill players have raved about the abilities of this season’s offensive line. The Bulldogs are by far the league leader with seven sacks allowed this year, and running back Tyler Varga ’15 certainly has the Eli front five to thank for his historic statistical season. But the matchup tomorrow, and the one following it in Cambridge, will likely be the two toughest tests for Yale’s offensive line because of the talent on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Should the offensive line fail to protect quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 and open holes for Yale’s running backs, the Bulldogs will face an uphill battle against Princeton.
STRIKE EARLY WITH BIG PLAYS
If Princeton’s 49–7 loss to Harvard three weeks ago is any indication, it is certainly possible to pick apart the Tiger secondary. Crimson quarterback Conner Hempel, who had just returned from a back injury, passed for 382 yards and three touchdowns in the Harvard victory. Princeton’s poor performance against the pass was not exactly out of the ordinary this season, as the Tigers have averaged 333.5 passing yards allowed in their eight games this season, last among the Ancient Eight.
What was notable, however, was the way in which Harvard attacked Princeton with the pass. Hempel struck early and often with the deep ball, giving his team a 14–0 lead early in the second quarter with touchdown passes of 39 and 49 yards. Those passes then opened up holes for Hempel to rush in a pair of touchdowns himself, and later on, he passed for another long touchdown, this time 42 yards to wide receiver Anthony Firkser.
Harvard’s big-play strategy against a struggling pass defense gave Princeton a multiple-touchdown deficit before it even had a chance to react. There is no doubt that Roberts and his receivers have the same capabilities as Harvard’s offense, and Yale should try to replicate this mode of attack in the opening minutes of the game.
GET TO EPPERLY IN THE POCKET
Princeton quarterback Quinn Epperly has noticeably declined in offensive production after winning Ivy Offensive Player of the Year and leading the Tigers to a share of the Ancient Eight title in 2013. Whether because of a lack of receivers — star wideout Roman Wilson graduated last year — or a nagging turf toe injury, he has not passed for over 200 yards in an Ivy League game this year.
But he remains a strong threat as a running quarterback, having piled up nine touchdowns and 204 yards on the ground in the six games he has played this season. Many of those statistics came from the Tigers’ 56–17 win over Davidson, in which Epperly rushed for 118 yards and four scores. Still, he was also a major factor last week against Penn, tallying 35 yards and a touchdown on nine rushing attempts — more than the number of passes he attempted, which was five.
If Princeton’s offense puts up big points in this contest, like it did against Davidson, there is a good chance that Epperly’s running threat will be a major part of the Tigers’ success. By containing Epperly in the pocket and cutting out this aspect of Princeton’s attack, Yale can force the Tigers to attack through the air and potentially make mistakes on offense.