Former Yale running back Tyler Varga ’15 was in the house for Saturday’s football game against Columbia — and despite sitting in the stands, he finished with more rushing yards than the Bulldogs did in their 17–7 loss to the Lions.
Yes, you read that right.
Including sacks, Yale’s offense combined for 21 carries for -14 yards. Even in the depths of the Elis’ 2–8 campaign in 2012, Yale never dipped below 120 yards on the ground in a game.
And while the running attack was nonexistent, passing the ball didn’t go much better for the Bulldogs. Starting quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 completed 12 of 24 attempts for a measly 104 yards and an interception, and in the limited action that backup Rafe Chapple ’18 saw, the Alpharetta, Georgia native had only 30 yards on five passing attempts.
A year after the Bulldogs routinely posted standout games on offense en route to their greatest offensive performance in school history, on Saturday the Elis posted their worst offensive performance in recent memory.
With three conference losses under its belt, Team 143 is essentially eliminated from Ivy contention. Still, hope is alive in New Haven.
Every season, though they might not tell you this, Yale football players enter with two goals in mind. One, obviously, is to win the Ivy League championship. And the other is to beat Harvard.
The latter is the goal that is still possible. Yale has a chance to end eight years of futility and upset Harvard, even as the Crimson has won 21 consecutive games.
Though many fans may be quick to write off the Bulldogs after Saturday’s loss to what has been a truly awful Columbia football program, it’s only fair to point out that the Lions are far from the perennial doormat that they used to be. New head coach Al Bagnoli, the winningest coach in Ancient Eight history, has transformed a historically downtrodden program that has just three winning seasons since John F. Kennedy was shot. Columbia had consecutive winless seasons in 2013 and 2014, allowing at least 21 points in every contest.
Now, however, the Lions stand at 2–5, having allowed fewer than 14 points four times this season. Their defense ranks ninth in the nation at stopping the run, allowing only 99 yards per game. Credit is due to Bagnoli for his gutsy decisions, including a fake field goal that turned into a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Sure, this Bulldog team has suffered more costly injuries than I’ve ever seen before. Five of Roberts’ top targets have missed significant time this year, and given the injuries to Yale’s offensive line, it’s unsurprising that the quarterback’s numbers have taken a nosedive from a year before. And injuries, especially those that have knocked running back Candler Rich ’17, tight end Sebastian Little ’17 and safety Foye Oluokun ’17 out for the season, aren’t something that can be fixed overnight.
But remember, in 2012, a 2–7 Yale squad with a mediocre offense walked into Harvard Stadium and took the lead in the fourth quarter not once, but twice against 7–2 Harvard. Anything can happen in college football, and that maxim is especially true in rivalry games.
No, the Bulldogs are not in a good position, not after a miserable Halloween loss and not with tough Ivy contests remaining against Brown, Princeton and Harvard.
It’s entirely feasible to envision Yale finishing the year with just the four wins it already has under its belt. On paper, Yale could easily be the underdog in all three games left.
But games aren’t played on paper. As the immortal Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And this season is most certainly not over.
Grant Bronsdon is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. He is a former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.