He was given 30 games as a Bulldog. Now that the ninth contest of the season has passed for the Elis, quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 sees his time to wear the Yale jersey ticking away, but not too quickly for him to leave an offensive legacy behind him when he leaves New Haven.
Roberts, in his second year as the starting signal caller for Yale, already holds Yale records for highest completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season — 66.8 percent, 3,220 and 22, respectively, all of which came in 2014. Though Roberts stands at fourth in the Ivy League for passing yards this season, his performance last season and consistency as a starter made him, as of last week, the Yale leader in career total offense with 6,089 yards. Roberts can set the record for passing yards in a career with 261 or more against Harvard on Saturday. But his mentality and leadership, not his statistics, are what his teammates laud him for as the season draws to a close.
“We call the quarterbacks the point guard of the offense, and he truly resembles that in every way,” wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 said. “He leads the offense and keeps us together. Not only does he do that for the offense, but he leads the team by the example he sets in practice, in the film room and on game day.”
A North Carolina native, Roberts was originally recruited to attend Clemson in nearby South Carolina, whose football program is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 10–0 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As a third-string quarterback for the Tigers, Roberts saw more than enough talent in his former teammates to prepare him for Ivy League football when he announced his transfer in January of 2013.
Roberts walked into a Yale football program rebuilding itself. In 2012, the Elis finished just 2–8, with a win over Penn marking their only conference victory.
Nevertheless, Roberts saw promise in the team he had moved hundreds of miles to join. During his first preseason for the Elis in August of 2013, Roberts told the New Haven Register, “This team is going places. I’d be shocked if we don’t see a championship in the next couple of years.”
That prediction did not come to fruition, but one year later, Roberts did manage to break through as the leader of a historically dominant Yale offensive system. His record-breaking season, during a year in which the Elis finished 8–2, earned him a spot on the All-Ivy Second Team, and his performance in the classroom that same year made him an Academic All-Ivy honoree.
“Aside from setting passing records, Morgan has played a pivotal role in transforming Yale football into the winning program it’s expected to be,” running back Austin Reuland ’16 said. “He has helped shape a culture filled with success and the ability to respond to all types of adversity.”
Following the momentum of the 2014 season, Roberts decided to come back to campus over the summer to help prepare his offense for 2015. Reuland noted the quarterback’s strong ability to lead the more inexperienced players, both with his words and with his actions.
That summer, Roberts also lost his top two wide receivers in Grant Wallace ’15 and Deon Randall ’15, who were one-two in the Ivy League rankings with a combined 206.8 receiver yards per game. Just a few months later, Roberts faced additional adversity, as Clemons, last year’s third starting receiver, went down with an injury, and North Carolina State transfer wide receiver Bo Hines ’18, touted as a potential replacement for the class of 2015 talent, played just parts of four games due to a pair of injuries. Wide receivers Chris Williams-Lopez ’18, Myles Gaines ’17 and Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18 have also each missed time due to injuries this season.
When the number of injuries was at its worst in the middle of the season, Roberts’ performance suffered markedly: Roberts threw three interceptions against Dartmouth and another three — all in the red zone — against Penn, and he was taken out for parts of Yale’s loss to Columba after completing just 12 passes for 24 yards.
With many of the injured players back on the field near the end of the year — but not Hines, whose status is still unclear — Roberts has led a significantly improved offensive performance in Yale’s most recent two wins. His 68.3 and 69.0 percent completion rates in wins over Brown and Princeton are second and third only to Roberts’ performance in Week 1, when Hines caught six passes for 68 yards before going out.
“It is really hard to compare one season to another,” Roberts said. “Last year we had the number one offense in the country and limited injuries. This year we have shown sparks of greatness, but did not put it all together until these past two games. I think my role on this team has changed to becoming a more vocal leader.”
Roberts will play his last game at Yale, and his last Game, Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Correction, Nov. 27: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that the Yale football team’s lone Ivy League win in 2012 was over Columbia. In fact, Yale lost to Columbia in 2012, and its only conference win was a 27–13 victory over Penn.