For the first time in 10 years, the Yale football team kicked off its season not with a win, but with a harsh reality check.
No. 23 Colgate (1–1, 0–0 Patriot) dominated the Bulldogs (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) in every aspect of the game on Saturday at the Yale Bowl, avenging a come-from-behind loss to Yale last year with a 55–13 thrashing in New Haven. The Elis could not get any momentum going on offense, while Colgate picked apart the defense both through the air and on the ground.
The game tied the largest home loss in the 144-year history of the Yale football program.
“We didn’t play well in any facet of the game,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We didn’t finish drives in the first half offensively. We turned the ball over, which we pride ourselves on not doing. Defensively, we gave up big plays. We didn’t punt the ball well early on and didn’t punt well in the fourth quarter … I’ve got a laundry list of things that I was not happy with today.”
Scoreline aside, many aspects of the game played out as could have been expected, as the more veteran position groups played well and the units predicted to flounder struggled to find success.
On the defensive side, the linebacking corps largely wrapped up their men in space, while a youthful secondary ceded 315 passing yards to Raider quarterback Jake Melville. Offensively, Yale struggled to find a rhythm while playing with three different quarterbacks, none of whom ever looked fully comfortable on the field.
The only major divergence between the team on paper and its performance on Saturday was in the rushing game. The Elis’ three running backs recorded just 45 yards on 15 carries, marking a significant drop-off from last year.
The rotating-door approach under center and in the backfield — three different quarterbacks and three different running backs saw time — proved to be not particularly effective. Though Rafe Chapple ’18 threw a touchdown pass to former high school teammate Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 on the first offensive play of the season, he was also picked off three times. And as impressive as Kurt Rawlings ’20 looked on his 25-yard completion to Williams-Lopez in traffic, the freshman threw an interception of his own and was sacked twice.
“We didn’t finish drives in the first half, offensively, so we had two field goals,” Reno said. “We had great field position on a few things and couldn’t finish drives. We turned the ball over, which we normally really pride ourselves on not doing.”
As the Ivy League championship is awarded purely based on results from conference games, Yale’s nonconference schedule allows the team to experiment with personnel without affecting its standing in the league. Reno acknowledged that he wanted to get “a feel for some personnel in all three phases of the game,” and he expressed hope that film will allow the team to answer some of its lingering questions.
Even without film, players on the team knew what had gone wrong.
“One thing we need to improve is our communication skills,” safety Hayden Carlson ’18 said. “During some of the big plays, we were not in the right position, so that starts with me and communicating better.”
Carlson finished with two forced turnovers in the first half, picking off a ball on the game’s first drive and recovering a muffed kickoff minutes into the second quarter.
While the Elis capitalized on the interception with Chapple’s touchdown pass, they lost three yards following the fumble recovery and settled for a field goal. Eight three-and-out drives in total plagued the offense, as the team struggled to gain significant yardage on first downs and was limited on subsequent downs as a result.
“I thought that, defensively, the success we were having allowed us to be a lot more aggressive on offense,” Colgate coach Dan Hunt said. “When you feel like you can get a stop, you can open up your playbook a little more, and once you get that, I thought the kids did a real nice job executing.”
Running back Dale Harris ’17 ended the day as the Elis’ leading rusher with just 39 yards on 11 attempts. Running backs Candler Rich ’17 and Deshawn Salter ’18, who Reno initially said would split carries evenly with Harris, combined to finish with six yards on four carries.
Cornell, which defeated Bucknell 24–16 last week, hosts Yale in the teams’ first conference matchup next Saturday in Ithaca, New York.