The start of the Yale football team’s 2016 campaign has been unlike any in recent memory.
In their first two games, the Elis have featured three quarterbacks — most recently, Tre Moore ’19 was named the starter for the rest of the season earlier this week. Additionally, Yale defense highlighted by a young secondary has allowed a combined 82 points over two weeks.
And while the Bulldogs (0–2, 0–1 Ivy) have had recent success against their Week 3 opponent, Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks (2–2, 0–0 Patriot) come to New Haven in 2016 as a more foreboding foe than in years past.
“[Lehigh] put[s] up a lot of points,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They’re much more aggressive up front and get off of blocks much better than they did last year. Their quarterback is a fourth-year guy and he’s been a very good player. We’ve got to minimize their [offensive] opportunities and stay on time with our offense and keep churning out downs and yards and we’ll have opportunities to make big plays.”
Yale will enter the game after two consecutive losses to open the season, marking the Elis’ first 0–2 start since 1997. While quarterback Rafe Chapple ’18 played under center for the majority of the first six quarters of the season, turnovers and offensive stagnation led to Moore playing the entire second half against Cornell. The sophomore finished the game with 174 yards on 21 completions, which proved sufficient for Reno to name him the starter for the rest of the season.
Moore will make history on Saturday as the third African-American to start at quarterback in the 144 year history of Yale football, following Phil Manley ’81 in 1980 and Derek Russell ’13 in 2012. Reno said was impressed by Moore’s preparation the last few weeks in practice as well as his speed and ability to deliver quick strikes to his receivers.
“When you look at what Tre can do, he’s obviously a dual-threat guy with his ability to hurt you with his feet,” Reno said. “He [also] gets the ball out fast on the perimeter. We talk about a lot that when our offense is moving well. It’s a distributor back there, a point guard [at quarterback]. He did a great job of that in the second half on Saturday.”
Against Lehigh, Moore will likely target wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, who has been Yale’s biggest offensive weapon thus far. The Duluth, Georgia, native has recorded a team-high 130 receiving yards and one touchdown on nine catches through two games. Wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 will also be expected to contribute on Saturday, as he currently leads the team with 12 receptions.
While the winless Bulldogs have scored just 26 points in two games, Lehigh enters the contest having beaten Penn and Princeton in back-to-back weeks, piling up over 40 points on each of its Ancient Eight opponents.
The Mountain Hawks bounced back from back-to-back losses against Monmouth and nationally ranked Villanova by demolishing Penn 49–28 in Philadelphia and handling Princeton 42–28 at home.
Over this two-game stretch, Lehigh has more than doubled Yale’s season yardage, accumulating 584.5 total yards per game. Quarterback Nick Shafnisky has been largely responsible for his team’s recent offensive explosion. The senior returning starter — who has averaged 424 yards passing and five touchdowns per game the past two weeks — currently ranks third in the Football Conference Subdivision in passing yards.
Shafnisky’s most trusted accomplice is wide receiver Troy Pelletier. The returning first-team All-Patriot League wideout currently leads the conference with 113.8 receiving yards per game on a team-high 8.5 receptions per contest.
After posting a minus-seven turnover margin in two games, the onus will be on Yale’s defensive unit to contain one of the country’s most prolific offensive attacks. Safety Hayden Carlson ’18 has been the biggest playmaker on defense thus far, with 22 total tackles and three takeaways in two games.
Linebacker Foye Oluokun ’17, who recorded a team-best 10 tackles against Cornell last weekend, was a big boost to the Elis last week after sitting out the season opener with an ankle injury. Oluokun also missed the final seven games of his junior campaign after suffering a season-ending injury on the first series of Yale’s 2015 encounter with Lehigh. In the offseason, Reno moved Oluokun from safety to linebacker where he believed the St. Louis native could make more of an impact on the defense.
“I’m just trying to help the team out,” Oluokun said. “It’s a little bit of a different playing style. You’re a little more involved in the running game … [and] it’s a little different pass-coverage-wise … so it takes some adjusting and a little getting used to. But I love it. As a safety you can’t let anyone behind you. As a linebacker it’s more zone drops, just filling space.”
Stopping the Lehigh passing attack, specifically its big offensive plays, will be crucial for Yale’s success.
The Bulldogs’ defensive squad gave up a combined 843 yards in the first six quarters of the season. However, the group played much better in the second half against Cornell, holding the Big Red to 101 yards and a lone field goal.
Captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 identified attention to detail as the root of the Elis’ more successful second half.
“Once we stopped worrying about the outcome of each drive, or even the outcome of the game and started focusing on each individual play and just having fun while playing the game, we were able to really dominate Cornell’s offense,” Manora said. “Hopefully we will be able to sustain this level of play for both halves of the game [against Lehigh].”
Manora has recorded 10 tackles, two of which went for negative yards, in the matchups against Colgate and Cornell.
While the Mountain Hawks’ offense presents an imposing challenge for the Bulldogs, Reno outlined an exacting game plan for slowing down the air attack.
“[We] need to affect the quarterback and get him off the midline,” Reno said. “The second thing is [we] have to be really good in coverage. We’ve got to do a really good job in our zones, eliminate big plays and tackle well. They throw it a lot to the perimeter and we have to tackle well in those areas. They’ve done a really good job in the last two weeks getting yards after the catch. Those five-yard throws turn into 25-yard gains.”
The two squads will kick off this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the Yale Bowl. The game will be broadcast on ONE World Sports as well as the Ivy League Digital Network.