Until this point, questions about the 2015 Yale football team were met with speculation — whether quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 can still excel with a new corps of wide receivers, whether running back Candler Rich ’17 can fill the hole left by current NFL running back Tyler Varga ’15 or whether an experienced defense, led by captain and safety Cole Champion ’16, can finally improve on an unremarkable performance last season.
Starting tomorrow at 1 p.m., coaches, players and fans can finally begin to answer those questions.
In Week 1 of Yale’s season, the Bulldogs (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) play tomorrow at Colgate (0–2, 0–0 Patriot), an opponent which, more experienced and perhaps better in every phase than its 2014 iteration, will prove a strong diagnostic for an Eli squad.
“We’re excited to finally get out and play,” tight end Sebastian Little ’16 said. “We’ve been smashing each other a lot, especially when the offense and defense go at it. We’ve been very competitive this preseason, but we’re excited to finally get another jersey color in there.”
Last season, Yale’s high-powered offense — namely four touchdowns by Varga — led a 45–31 victory over the Raiders, beginning a five-game winning streak With nearly all of Colgate’s starters having returned to the field this year, the Bulldogs will be able to test their offense and defense against a known non-conference opponent.
Though Colgate has already played two games, the Raiders will likely be using the contest for a similar purpose. After losing 48–10 to Navy, a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, and then dropping last week’s matchup 26–8 to No. 13 New Hampshire, Colgate’s third matchup will be its first that is ostensibly level on paper.
Reno noted that beginning the season with two strong opponents will help Colgate become a better team this year. Champion added that the Bulldogs also have in-game experience heading into Week 1 — but in a different way.
“We played a couple preseason games, and we might look at them differently, but we created a game-type atmosphere for those,” Champion said. “That really helps us out competing against teams that have one or two exhibition games under their belt. I don’t think [Colgate’s two games before Yale’s opening week are] really an advantage.”
The Raiders, who tallied 31 points and 173 rushing yards against Yale last season, return their top two quarterbacks, top three running backs and top three pass catchers in terms of yardage from 2014.
Though Colgate ranked fifth out of seven teams in the Patriot League in scoring offense, its rushing ability was much stronger, with a conference-leading 181.0 rushing yards per game. Starting quarterback Jake Melville, who was absent due to sickness against Yale last season, was a major part of the ground attack with 435 rushing yards in just seven games, as was running back Demetrius Russell, who totaled 703 yards in 2014.
“I’m very concerned about Colgate’s offense,” Reno said. “They’ve got a big strong back [in] Russell. He was tough for us to tackle last year in the Bowl, and I’m sure it’s going to be similar [this year]. Their quarterback [Melville] is a very athletic guy. He moves really well in space. He can create some problems on the perimeter.”
Though Yale’s offense clearly had the upper hand a year ago, that reputation will be evaluated tomorrow when an entirely new set of targets for Roberts steps out onto the field.
Rich found success as a backup to Varga last season, averaging 7.5 yards on 67 carries, but his production potential as a starter remains to be seen. Reno noted that Rich will receive “the lion’s share” of the carries this season, and his ability to continue Yale’s rushing dominance will likely be a major determinant in not only the Elis’ first game, but also their entire season.
Wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 will be the most familiar pass catcher, having served as the third receiver last season and returning as a leader of the corps this season. Michael Siragusa ’18 will start as the other wideout after recording just seven receptions for 89 yards in his freshman campaign.
At the slot receiver position — in which last year’s starter, Deon Randall ’15, broke a Yale record for career receptions — Myles Gaines ’17 and North Carolina State transfer Bo Hines ’18 will both see the field while fighting for the starting job. Though Gaines is listed as the starter, Reno said this decision is not necessarily indicative of the share of playing time they will receive in Week 1.
Little and fellow tight end Stephen Buric ’16 will also add experience to the offense after missing large chunks of last season.
“It’s been a long wait,” Little said. “It’s good to be back on the field with my teammates again.”
Defensively, Colgate and Yale enter tomorrow’s game in similar situations, as both are looking to improve from 2014 by capitalizing on upperclassmen-stacked units.
Yale will look to take advantage of its veteran secondary with four two-year starters — Champion, safety Foye Oluokun ’17 and cornerbacks Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and Dale Harris ’17 — all returning to the field. Rymiszewski will step onto the field for the first time since being injured with a spinal cord concussion in Week 6 last season.
Up front, Yale was fifth in the Ivy League against the rush last season, but will look to improve on that mark this season behind the leadership of defensive end Marty Moesta ’16, defensive tackle Copache Tyler ’17 and linebacker Andrew Larkin ’16. The unit’s ability to excel this season will be tested tomorrow against both strong running backs and an elusive quarterback.
Colgate’s defense has had a rocky start to the season against tough competition, meanwhile, with 74 total points allowed to Navy and New Hampshire. The Raiders, who have nine upperclassmen listed at the top of their depth chart, will look to this game as an opportunity to prove the ability of their experienced 3–4 defense.
“Defensively, they’re an odd front, so that’s always interesting when you face an odd front early in the season,” Reno said. “You see a lot of pressure. I’m always concerned about our zone schemes, being consistent and picking up pressure on the odd front.”
Yale’s start to the season will kick off tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Hamilton, New York. The game will be streamed on the Patriot League Network.