Though the Yale football team enters Friday’s contest against Penn boasting a 4–1 record, the 2015 Bulldogs stand in stark contrast with last year’s team, which throttled a number of opponents — including the Quakers in a 43–21 rout a year ago. To leave Franklin Field with a win and to convince the naysayers that they are back on track, the Elis will need to establish their downfield passing game, pressure Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen and win the field position battle.
AIR IT OUT
The Bulldogs’ spread offense, orchestrated by head coach Tony Reno and offensive coordinator Joe Conlin, is predicated on an up-tempo style and short passes to set up the rest of the attack. But after top wideouts such as Robert Clemons III ’17, Bo Hines ’18 and Myles Gaines ’17 went down with injuries in the first three weeks of the season, quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 has had precious few options downfield.
With so many of Roberts’ passes landing close to the line of scrimmage, defenses can cheat and play press coverage, which also helps them contain Yale’s running game. The potential return of Hines — who said he is a game-time decision — could jump-start the Elis and get things moving. Otherwise, it will be up to playmakers like wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 and tight end Sebastian Little ’17 to keep secondaries honest and provide Roberts with targets down the sidelines.
PUNCH THROUGH THE POCKET
Torgersen, who posted a school-record 421 passing attempts last season, has been efficient thus far in 2015. The junior leads the Ivy League in completion percentage at 68 percent and has seven touchdowns in comparison to just two interceptions. He also enters this week’s contest coming off a three-touchdown, 296-yard performance in a 42–7 victory over former Penn coach Al Bagnoli and his Columbia Lions.
Stopping Torgersen can happen through downfield coverage or by pressuring the signal-caller in the pocket and forcing him to release the ball quickly. The Quakers have allowed a mere six sacks all year, third-best among Ancient Eight teams, so Yale’s front seven — led by linebackers Matt Oplinger ’18 and Andrew Larkin ’16 — may have to blitz in order to reach Torgersen. If that happens, watch the matchup on the outside between Yale’s secondary and Justin Watson. Penn’s star wideout has more receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns than any of his Yale counterparts, and his 6-foot-3 frame makes him a dangerous downfield threat.
FIGHT FOR FIELD POSITION
Since Yale’s offense has struggled getting into rhythm over the last few weeks, one thing the Bulldogs cannot afford is to be continually pinned deep in their own territory. Last week against Maine, Yale did not start a possession on Maine’s half of the field until a last-minute interception in the fourth quarter put the game away, and the Elis started 12 out of 17 drives from behind their own 30-yard line.
It will be important for punter Bryan Holmes ’17, who has the most punts in the Ivy League, to pin the Quakers deep in their own territory whenever possible. In addition, the Bulldogs will need to limit their three-and-outs and protect Roberts on offense — Penn leads all Ivy teams with 18 sacks, while Yale is tied for sixth in protecting its quarterback, having allowed 13 sacks.