The Yale football team takes on its fourth league opponent of the season when Columbia visits the Bowl on Saturday. While the Bulldogs have captured 11 of the last 12 matchups, the Lions are in the midst of a rebuilding process under new head coach Al Bagnoli. This game is by no means a guaranteed win, but provided the defense prevents big plays and the offense converts on third down and limits its turnovers, the Elis can reward their home fans with a Halloween win.
THE SECONDARY COMES FIRST
Penn’s vertical threats shredded the Yale secondary last Friday for several big-yardage plays. The top two Quaker wide receivers combined for six catches of at least 20 yards, with two of those receptions going for touchdowns. Against Dartmouth, the Big Green’s top two wideouts tallied five catches of at least 20 yards. While the Elis have effectively mixed up blitz patterns at several points during the season, such defensive gambles cannot come at the cost of big plays.
The Bulldogs have enough talent in the secondary to shut down the deep ball. Cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 currently ranks second in the Ivy League in passes defended, with captain and safety Cole Champion ’16 right behind in third. Should the team prevent passing lanes from opening up along the sideline, Yale can use its physicality to effectively shut down Columbia’s passing attack.
KEEP HOLMES ON THE SIDELINE
Punter Bryan Holmes ’17 bears the dubious distinction of leading the Ancient Eight in punts. With 33 punts through six games, Holmes’ statistics say almost as much about the Yale offense’s ability to convert on third down as its conversion percentage does: ranking sixth in the Ivy League, Yale converts just 36.7 percent of its third-down attempts.
Compounding that statistic is Columbia’s third-down defense. Opponents have only converted 30.8 of their third-down attempts, best for second in the league. Only one other Ivy League team that Yale has played thus far ranks comparably — Dartmouth, which defeated Yale 35–3 on Oct. 10 and has an identical 30.8 percent third-down defense. While third downs may not have been the difference in Hanover, they might be critical this weekend.
PROTECT THE FOOTBALL
Yale’s turnovers tell a strange story. In their two losses, the Bulldogs have turned the ball over five times in the red zone. But despite the three interceptions and two fumbles inside the 20-yard line, Yale has still converted on 75 percent of its scoring chances, making the Elis the third-most efficient team in the red zone.
Overall, the team’s turnovers have perhaps been the best predictor of the game’s outcome. In Yale’s four wins, the Elis’ net turnover margin is even. In their two losses, however, the Bulldogs have coughed up the ball five more times than their opponents. Winning the turnover battle seems like an obvious strategy, but given Yale’s struggles to maintain possession, particularly when approaching the end zone, the team would do well to clutch the pigskin a little closer.