The Yale football team that takes the field Saturday against No. 23 Colgate will not look like its predecessors. Clad in new Under Armour uniforms and stronger after spending months participating in a new sports performance program, Team 144 is prepared to overwrite Yale’s disappointing 2015 campaign with a stronger performance in 2016.
Those expectations will meet an immediate challenge Saturday against Colgate, a team that poses a serious challenge to an unproven and fairly youthful Eli team. Coming off a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals, the Raiders (0–1, 0–0 Patriot) could snap a nine-year winning streak for the Bulldogs (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) in Week 1 matchups.
“This team Colgate put together is the best team we’ve played in an opener,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They returned virtually everyone, so for us it will be a huge test this weekend at the Bowl.”
A year ago, Yale pieced together a thrilling 15-point comeback in the final quarter to defeat its Patriot League foe in Hamilton, New York. A 365-yard performance from the offense, featuring a game-winning touchdown reception from wide receiver Michael Siragusa ’18, and clutch second-half play from the defense allowed the Bulldogs to eke out a 29–28 win.
But things may be trickier Saturday at the Yale Bowl. Colgate will likely start just four new players, while Yale will play without all three of last year’s first-team All-Ivy honorees. Moreover, the Bulldogs have graduated their all-time leading passer in quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, but Colgate quarterback Jake Melville returns for his third year as a starter after leading his team through three rounds of the FCS tournament at the end of last season.
“Going in towards this home opener we have a really tough opponent, but we’re very confident in how we’ve prepared over the past few weeks,” captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said. “We’ve put together a great, great repertoire of what we can throw at them as well.”
Two weeks ago, in Colgate’s season opener, Melville went 10–22 for just 82 yards, as Syracuse dominated the Raiders in a 33–7 win for the Power Five conference team. While the Raiders tightened up when it mattered, holding Syracuse to four field goals in four red-zone trips, the Orange still managed to pick apart Colgate’s odd-front defense, torching it for 437 passing yards.
Still, Reno cautioned against underestimating the Raiders’ defense.
“Colgate is very good up front, on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full controlling the line of scrimmage against these guys … It’ll be a battle of who can get themselves into third-and-shorts and get a chance to convert.”
Yale will be unveiling new front lines on Saturday, as the loss of two first-team All-Ivy linemen — center Luke Longinotti ’16 graduated and defensive lineman Copache Tyler ’17 is not at school this year for personal reasons — necessitated a switch-up. Karl Marback ’18 will be stepping into the center position, while defensive end Kyle Mullen ’19 will take Tyler’s spot, according to Yale’s depth chart.
The Bulldogs look to be in better shape with their skill players, as they return a group of experienced wide receivers, multipurpose running backs and talented linebackers for 2016. While the veteran presence in those skill positions is an advantage, Yale must demonstrate that youthful cornerbacks and a huge question mark at the quarterback position will not become a problem.
On Tuesday, Reno said that three quarterbacks — Rafe Chapple ’18, Tre Moore ’19 and Kurt Rawlings ’20 — were still competing for the starting nod, and the team had not ruled out the possibility of a multi-quarterback system. Regardless of the starter, the signal caller will be equipped with a solid cadre of receivers, most of whom saw time last year with injuries decimating the receiving corps.
“We had a lot of returners on defense and some younger guys on offense, but the young guys are not scared, which was awesome to see [in preseason],” wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 said. “It was a fun, competitive preseason and it will really prepare us for the season. We’re definitely looking forward to Saturday and going up against someone else instead of us.”
Clemons will be starting at wideout alongside Siragusa. Last season’s leading receiver, Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, will be starting in the slot.
Yale kicks off against Colgate at 1:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ONE World Sports TV as well as the Ivy League Digital Network.