Fresh off of two straight Ivy League losses — the first time the Bulldogs have dropped consecutive conference games since 2013 — a reeling Yale football team looks to rebound against a visiting Brown team.
The Elis looked lifeless last week against Columbia as the offense posted just 120 total yards and zero points, with defensive back Jason Alessi ’18 providing the only Yale score with a punt return touchdown. Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 came off the field and was replaced by Rafe Chapple ’18 twice in the offensive debacle. With three games remaining, a Harvard win or a Yale loss will officially eliminate the Bulldogs from Ivy League title contention.
“All of us were disappointed with the outcome of Saturday’s game,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It came down to some missed opportunities and lack of execution, particularly on the offensive side … We didn’t do enough to give ourselves a chance to win. We regrouped on Sunday and are looking forward to getting back on the field on Saturday.”
Despite Chapple’s brief stints in last week’s action, Roberts will start against Brown, according to Reno.
This week’s matchup is actually the second time Yale (4–3, 1–3 Ivy) and Brown (4–3, 2–2) have gone head-to-head this season, as the teams scrimmaged in August. However, the Elis will be starting a very different set of players, as injuries have become the dominant theme of the season.
“Do we have a lot of injuries?” Reno said. “Yes. I told the team on Sunday, are we really banged up, worse than we could’ve thought? Yes. But we can do one of two things: we can cry in our soup or we can embrace the opportunity and move forward.”
Reno’s “next man up” mentality, one of his staple phrases throughout the season, has been on full display this season. Injuries to skill players, particularly on the offense, have created opportunities for a wide variety of players to step up.
Before facing Dartmouth three weeks ago, Reno explained that he always keeps six running backs on the roster who are prepared to play. Yale has burned through all six of its running backs this year: with first-string running back Candler Rich ’17 and third-stringer John Barton ’19 out for the season, and second-, fourth- and fifth-string runners Deshawn Salter ’18, Austin Reuland ’16 and Andrew Johnson ’18 sidelined with injuries of their own, sixth-string running back Jamal Locke ’18 ended up taking four snaps against Columbia.
“We’ve put the ‘six running backs deep’ to the test,” Reno said.
Inexperienced wide receivers have seen playing time as well, with the team’s top two slot receivers on the depth chart — Myles Gaines ’17 and Bo Hines ’18 — as well as the Elis’ leading wideout, Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18, injured. Reno complimented the play of Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, who ranks second on the team with 24 receptions, though he has played in just four games due to injuries of his own.
Iconic former Yale football coach Carm Cozza said at the team’s weekly media luncheon on Tuesday that he had never coached through a season that had so many injuries in his 31 years at the helm of the program. At most recent count, 13 Elis are out for the season and 42 players — 27 of whom are considered “regulars” on the field — have been injured, sick or sidelined at some point this year.
Luckily for the banged-up Bulldogs, they are facing a much weaker defense than the Lions. Statistically speaking, Brown ranks seventh in the league in several defensive categories, including points allowed per game (33.0), rushing yards allowed per game (146.1) and total sacks (11).
That last statistic in particular should be of some comfort to the Elis, who saw their quarterbacks get sacked a season-high six times against Columbia. Less comforting is that Brown has also snagged seven interceptions, good for fourth-most in the Ivy League. With Roberts already having tossed 10 picks through seven games, worst in the league and in his career, an able secondary spells potential trouble for the Bulldogs.
“Brown is a big, physical team,” Chapple said. “They play hard. They’re probably banged up, though not as much as we are. They run a good scheme and have good coaches, so we know it’s going to be a tough game.”
The Bears’ unbalanced offensive attack offers a unique challenge for Yale’s defense. Quarterback Marcus Fuller and Brown’s aerial offense comfortably sit atop the league with 355.1 passing yards per game, over 50 yards per game more than the next-highest team, but the ground game, which averages 105.0 yards per game, is at the bottom.
Fuller, who leads the league with an average of 42.6 pass attempts per game, has three main targets, all of whom have caught at least 40 balls. Wide receivers Alex Jette, Troy Doles and Brian Strachan rank first, second and fifth, respectively, in the Ivy League in receiving yards per game. Doles also ranks second in the league with five touchdown receptions.
“In the film, they’ve got some good wide receivers, a good QB,” Alessi said. “When we played them 10 weeks ago, it was kind of the same thing. They haven’t changed too much from last year as well. They execute. They’re tough.”
Alessi, who had been starring on special teams for the majority of the season, stepped into one of the starting cornerback positions against Brown last year, tallying a team-high 12 solo tackles in the game. The Bears racked up 42 points that day, but that was not enough to overcome the high-octane Bulldogs of 2014, who tallied 45 points behind a 204-yard effort from running back Tyler Varga ’15.
While Yale’s offense has taken a step back in its production, the Eli defense has made positive strides and has yet to allow more than 35 points in a game this season.
“From last year, we’ve grown a lot,” Alessi said of the defense. “We didn’t lose anyone. Our captain, safety Cole Champion ’16, is doing an unbelievable job, and [cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’17] came back … We try to limit the big plays as much as possible, through game-planning and technique.”
Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be available for streaming on FOX College Sports.