Fresh off Yale football’s thrilling comeback victory at Colgate to open the 2015 campaign, the Bulldogs will make their home debut tomorrow afternoon against Cornell. Having won just 14 Ancient Eight contests over the past eight seasons, the Big Red was the preseason media poll selection to finish in the basement of the conference. Yet Cornell nearly escaped Week 1 with an upset win over Bucknell, before falling victim to a toss-and-catch with just 1:53 remaining that resulted in a 19–14 defeat. If the Bulldogs can stuff Cornell’s running game, avoid allowing big plays and mesh offensively for the entire game, they can emerge victorious in more comfortable fashion and move on with a 2–0 start to their season.
If there is one thing that can be learned about Cornell’s offense from its past 11 games, it is that the Big Red has quite an affinity for utilizing its star running back. Luke Hagy, now a senior leader for Cornell, was a central offensive weapon for his 1–9 team last season and continued that trend in last week’s nailbiting loss with 18 carries for 105 yards.
Hagy’s 19 touches last Saturday comprised exactly half of the 38 rushes and completions for Cornell in the entire game. Though Bucknell scored a middling 19 points, the Bison took advantage of the Big Red’s one-dimensional offense, allowing just 14 points and 240 total offensive yards — a figure that Yale’s offense doubled in nine of 10 contests last year.
By stacking the box to stop Hagy’s rushing threat, the Bulldogs can force Cornell to attack through the air, a strategy in which the Big Red is much less proven. Quarterback Robert Somborn enters his fifth collegiate start having completed just nine passes on 18 attempts last weekend. Though stopping the pass will also be important for the Eli defense, testing out Somborn’s abilities early on in the contest may be the least-risky strategy.
DEFEND THE DEEP BALL
That being said, when the Big Red found success last weekend, it did so via the downfield passing game. For a Yale secondary that was susceptible to big plays a year ago, what Somborn lacks in experience he more than makes up for in arm strength.
Despite completing only nine passes, the third-year signal caller still managed 152 yards, including a 41-yard strike down the right sideline on the Big Red’s first touchdown drive of the game. Even in his limited playing time in 2014, Somborn’s willingness to try and beat defenses over the top was still on display. Of the four quarterbacks to see significant action last season, Somborn’s average yards-per-passing attempt was 7.8 yards, while the three others ranged between 3.6 and 5.2 yards per attempt.
The potential emergence of James Hubbard, who had three receptions for 60 yards in his first career start at wideout, paired with deep threat Collin Shaw, who was tied for third in the Ivy League in yards per catch in 2014, will keep head coach Tony Reno’s secondary on its toes.
In addition to getting yards in bunches, the deep passing attack will open up running lanes for Hagy and keep the Yale defense honest. But preventing big plays and forcing Cornell to throw underneath will give Yale a significant edge on defense.
PLAY A FULL 60
Yale’s 29–28 win over Colgate last Saturday was packed with excitement, particularly in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs were fortunate to come away with a victory and a season-opening win. But the reason Yale needed a 14-point comeback in the first place was that its offense was anemic for most of the first half, an issue that, if repeated, could certainly cost the Elis against stronger opponents down the road.
Cornell was ranked last in the Ivy League media preseason poll this summer, making tomorrow’s contest one that Yale should expect to win. But beyond that, the Bulldogs should make sure to start off on a good note and continue that momentum for an entire 60 minutes of play.
Last weekend, the Elis certainly did start hot, with a quick 14-play, 71-yard opening drive that ended with a touchdown by running back Candler Rich ’17. That was followed, however, by eight consecutive Yale drives without a score. If the offense can stay strong for a full game and avoid that same type of slowdown, it will set itself up to be able to do the same in future contests.