The Yale football team travels to Hanover, New Hampshire this weekend to take on its toughest challenge of the 2015 season thus far: Dartmouth.
While the Elis’ prior opponents have a combined 4–9 record, the Big Green, like the Bulldogs, are a perfect 3–0. Dartmouth has outscored its opponents 121–37 over the past three weeks, in large part due to the production of dual-threat quarterback Dalyn Williams, the only fourth-year starting quarterback active in the Ivy League.
“[Williams’] tape doesn’t lie,” linebacker and reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week Matthew Oplinger ’18 said. “He’s an extremely good athlete who can also throw the football. When you come up against a threat like that, it’s always tough to contain. We’re going to have to work really hard this week to really discipline ourselves in order to stop him.”
Stopping the Big Green’s high-powered offense — or at least minimizing their damage — will be of utmost importance for the Bulldogs, who have lost the last three matchups to their conference foe. Last season’s 38–31 loss, one of two in the Elis’ 2014 campaign, ultimately proved to be the difference between second and third place in the Ivy League.
In that game, Dartmouth rebounded from a 24–14 halftime deficit to score its final touchdown with 2:20 on the clock. On a day in which the Big Green secondary blanketed his receivers, quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 threw three interceptions for the first and only time in his career.
“In the big picture, I think we ran out of time in that game,” head coach Tony Reno said. “In reality of what happened for those 60 minutes, Dartmouth executed at the end of the game and we didn’t. They had a finishing drive to make it 38–31. We got the ball back and went down the field and we didn’t finish our drive.”
While Dartmouth’s veteran offense poses some challenges, Yale’s defense has shown it can step up to difficult tasks. Against running quarterbacks such as Cornell’s Robert Somborn and Lehigh’s Nate Shafnisky, Yale’s speedy, rangy linebacking unit and aggressive defensive line have pushed back the line of scrimmage and consistently pressured the mobile passers. As a group, the defense has exhibited tremendous growth since the opening weekend and should continue to improve, Oplinger said.
Reno echoed Oplinger, saying the team as a whole was not performing at the level it ought to be though he was pleased with the improvements made, particularly from the second game of the season.
After racking up just 180 rushing yards in the first two games, the Elis finally rediscovered the ground game against Lehigh last week. Running back Deshawn Salter ’18 made his first start in place of the injured Candler Rich ’17 and made the most of the opportunity, picking up 233 yards on 29 carries, a mark that ranks fifth all-time in Yale history.
For his performance, Salter shared Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors with Dartmouth’s Williams, who earned 418 all-purpose yards. After coming two yards short of tying Yale’s record for most yards by a sophomore running back in a single game, Salter credited the offensive line and overall execution by the offense for his productivity.
“The bottom line is that [Salter] showed he can play well at this level,” Reno said. “I expect he’s going to get a good amount of carries when [Rich] gets back as well.”
Reno did not say whether Rich, or any of the injured trio of defensive back Foye Oluokun ’17 and wide receivers Robert Clemons III ’17 and Bo Hines ’18, will take the field on Saturday.
Dartmouth is dealing with injury issues of its own. Fifth-year wide receiver Ryan McManus, who gouged Yale last year for 188 yards and two scores, has not played since suffering an injury in the Big Green’s opening win against Georgetown three weeks ago. However, Reno said he expects to see McManus back in action on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens also said a return was probable.
In McManus’ absence, fellow Big Green wideout Victor Williams has exploded for 391 receiving yards on 23 catches and two touchdowns in two games.
“Williams is playing with an edge,” Reno said. “McManus has been one of the top receivers in the league for the last three years. They’ve got two threats that we’ve got to try and contain, along with the quarterback. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.”
In addition to a potent offense, Dartmouth boasts a formidable defense. The experienced unit is ranked second in scoring defense and fourth in rushing defense in the Football Championship Subdivision. It has scored three touchdowns, the most in the Ivy League, and has contributed to the team’s turnover margin of +5, also the best in the conference. Thirty-five percent of Dartmouth’s points have come off turnovers.
Although the Yale defense does not have statistics as impressive as Dartmouth’s, the unit has been very effective, particularly in the final 30 minutes. The Eli defense has allowed only 19 second-half points all season, best in the Ancient Eight.
The Bulldogs’ offense has similarly stepped up in the second half. After consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victories to open the season, the unit pieced together a complete, balanced attack against Lehigh last week, looking more like the FCS-leading 2014 squad than it had early on this season. Currently, Yale’s offense ranks 14th in total offense in the FCS. Roberts currently leads the Ivy League in passing yards per game and passing touchdowns, with 305 and seven, respectively. He has connected with 10 different receivers, emblematic of the team’s depth.
While the Elis improved on both sides of the ball last week, there is one area the team still needs to fix: penalties. The Big Green are afflicted with the same propensity for drawing flags that the Bulldogs are, as the two teams are seventh and eighth in the Ivy League with 23 and 31 penalties, respectively.
The 99th iteration of Yale-Dartmouth kicks off at 1:30 p.m. at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field. It will be broadcast on FOX College Sports.