Through its first three games of 2016, the Yale football team has allowed 145 points. Still in search of their first win of the season, the Bulldogs will take on Dartmouth, a defending Ivy League champion that allowed just 101 points all of last season.
Yale’s offense finally began to head in the right direction last Saturday: The 35 points the Elis (0–3, 0–1 Ivy) put up against Lehigh were nine more than they had accumulated in their two previous games combined. However, the offensive outburst was not enough to propel the team into the win column, as a high-powered Mountain Hawk offense responded with 63 points and 524 passing yards.
The schedule will not get any easier for the Bulldogs as they return to Ivy League play this Saturday. Despite suffering a 37–24 loss to Penn last week, Dartmouth (2–1, 0–1) is strong on both sides of the ball, allowing just 22.7 points per game this season. Victory over the Big Green at the Yale Bowl will require a complete, 60-minute effort from the Elis.
“I’m proud of how hard the team has worked,” head coach Tony Reno said. “This group is close and really dedicated to playing better each week than [it] did the week before. We’ll continue to grow as a team and get where we want to be. I tell them that sometimes it takes a lumberjack five or six swings to knock down the tree. Other times it takes 100, so you got to keep swinging the axe.”
The Bulldog rushing attack, which was highly touted entering the season, lived up to its expectations against the Mountain Hawks last week with a 243-yard, three-touchdown performance.
Running back Deshawn Salter ’18 managed 151 yards on 15 carries, shouldering the load in the absence of starter Dale Harris ’17, who missed the game with an injury. Newly anointed starting quarterback Tre Moore ’19 showed off his mobility, adding two rushing touchdowns of his own.
“We’ve been practicing a lot better from the first week on,” offensive lineman Jeho Chang ’18 said. “We’ve been trying to bring it on the field and had a little bit of [offensive] success [against Lehigh]. Hopefully we can keep doing that and have more success along the way.”
While the offensive unit proved more productive than in previous weeks, the Yale passing attack still struggled to find its footing. Moore threw for a meager 120 yards on 11 completions while giving up two interceptions in his first collegiate start.
Reno said he hoped to see “incremental growth” out of his sophomore quarterback against Dartmouth, adding that Moore’s calmness and poise set him up best for success.
“The thing I like about him is his demeanor,” Reno said. “It is great especially for a quarterback [because] nothing ever rattles him. He made some nice improvisational plays [last week] and we haven’t had a quarterback do that in a while.”
Wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 remained one of Yale’s most vital offensive weapons, accumulating 101 yards on six receptions against Lehigh. The junior’s 63-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was Yale’s second-longest play from scrimmage in the game.
In contrast with the Bulldogs’ unit, the Dartmouth offense has been balanced and effective this season, averaging 27 points per contest despite the graduation of seven starters. Dartmouth has averaged over 254 passing yards per game behind quarterback Jack Heneghan, good for third in the Ivy League behind Cornell and Harvard.
While the Big Green does not have a particular standout receiver, Heneghan has been effective at utilizing the depth of his receiving core, as three of his pass-catchers have recorded at least 12 receptions and 120 yards each on the season. The Dartmouth running attack has also been strong in 2016, racking up 536 yards on the ground so far. As a result, the Big Green rank behind only Harvard and Penn in rushing.
Though the Quakers poked holes in the Dartmouth defense last week, the Big Green comes into New Haven as the third-stingiest defense in the Ivy League, having allowed just 22.6 points per game. Yale’s own defensive unit will have to step up if it is to give Moore and the Eli offense a fighting chance in Week 4: The Bulldogs’ total points allowed and total yards allowed are both the worst marks in the Ivy League, largely attributable to a stumbling secondary.
“The two thorns [in our side] have been passing offense and passing defense,” Reno said. “We’ve got to improve in those areas for us to see the results we want at the end of the game.”
Yale will need its defenders in the secondary, including top playmaking safety Hayden Carlson ’18, to create opportunities for its offense in the form of turnovers. The Elis will also hope for the return of starting cornerback Marquise Peggs ’19, as his absence last week against Lehigh further exposed an already thin position group.
The pass-rushing trio of linebacker and captain Darius Manora ’17, defensive lineman Marty Moesta ’17 and defensive lineman Kyle Mullen ’19 have combined for five sacks this season, and will look to aid their secondary by putting constant pressure on Heneghan. Behind the strength of his offensive line, the Dartmouth gunslinger has been sacked just three times in as many games.
“We’ve shown spurts where we can play great defense, and we did a good job stopping the run [against Lehigh],” Mullen said. “The reason why most defensive lineman play football is to have an effect on the passing game and [to] get sacks because that’s when it’s fun. The biggest thing we have to work on is getting our pass rush early, so we have to convert and react to blocks to help out the younger guys who are playing back [in the secondary].”
Saturday’s matchup at the Yale Bowl will be the 100th meeting between the two storied programs. The Elis won the inaugural contest 113–0 in 1884 and have since posted a 52–40–6 record. Saturday’s kickoff between the Bulldogs and the Big Green is at 1 p.m.