The Yale football team entered last weekend’s matchup at the Yale Bowl with its entire season hanging by a thread. At risk of dropping their fourth-straight game and posting the program’s worst start to a season since 1983, the Bulldogs battled their way to a 21–13 victory over Dartmouth, secured by a late game interception at the goal line by safety Hayden Carlson ’18.
Yale (1–3, 1–1 Ivy) will now take a week off from Ivy League play as it travels to Fordham (3–2, 1–0 Patriot) this Saturday for its final non-conference game, one of its most challenging contests of the season. The Rams, an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Playoff team last season, beat the University of Pennsylvania 31–17 three weeks ago and feature the FCS’s leading rusher, junior Chase Edmonds.
“You could see some glimmers of what we could be [in the first three weeks], but we finally put it all together [against Dartmouth],” head coach Tony Reno said. “I was really proud of the players for putting together 60 minutes of great football. If you’re going to win games in this league, they’re going to be close so you have to be able to come from behind.”
Quarterback Tre Moore ’19 showed promise in his second game as Yale’s starter, throwing for 181 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Moore’s decision making and deep-ball accuracy, Reno said, improved the most between the team’s Week 3 loss to Lehigh and its Week 4 win over the Big Green.
However, it was the running backs who fueled the offense last Saturday. Alan Lamar ’20 ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns in his first appearance at running back all season, shouldering the load in place of Dale Harris ’17, who played cornerback for most of the game, and an injured Deshawn Salter ’18.
After finishing with 241 total yards on the ground against Dartmouth, Yale’s run game could be even more dangerous this weekend with the potential return of Salter, who has averaged 62.7 yards per game in his first three games. Between Lamar, Salter, Harris and running back Candler Rich ’17, who ran for 159 yards as a freshman against Fordham in 2013, the Elis will hope to counter Fordham’s Patriot League-leading ground attack.
Yale may see increased opportunities to score in this game compared to weeks past, as Fordham enters the contest allowing 33.2 points per game, the second-most in the Patriot League.
However, the likely absence of wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, who sprained his ankle against Dartmouth, will require other wideouts to step up for the Elis. The junior currently leads the Bulldogs with 222 receiving yards.
Wide receiver Myles Gaines ’17 filled in for Williams-Lopez admirably last week, catching nine passes for 106 yards in less than three quarters of playing time. Yale will also look to involve wideout Reed Klubnik ’20, who made a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab last weekend. Klubnik credited upperclassmen such as wide receiver Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18 for acclimating him to the college game in his rookie season.
“It all starts with Michael Siragusa,” Klubnik said. “Since I got here I’ve been shadowing him, and he’s done a great job teaching me everything I need to do. Watching him has helped me be a better player.”
In addition to the offensive unit’s surprise performances from Lamar, Gaines and Klubnik, Yale’s defense also made significant strides last week. Despite coming into Week 4 having given up an average of 48.3 points per game, the Bulldogs held the Big Green to just 13. Yale’s rush defense in particular dominated the Dartmouth front, allowing just 69 yards on the ground.
“We struggled a little to start, but it was all internal issues, guys making mistakes that are correctable,” linebacker Matthew Oplinger ’18 said. “We were put in the right places to succeed against Dartmouth, and guys made the plays they were supposed to make. We’re starting to play the brand of football we have been known to play in previous years.”
Oplinger, who moved from middle linebacker to outside linebacker, was one of several defensive players Reno shifted around before the Dartmouth game. Foye Oluokun ’17 returned to play safety, his primary position in his first three season, after playing linebacker for the first three games. Reno said both Oplinger and Oluokun would remain at these new positions for the rest of the season.
Although he took a few carries at running back, Harris played almost the entire contest against the Big Green at cornerback, his position for the first two-and-a-half years of his Yale career. Reno said Harris would continue to see both offensive and defensive snaps, which undoubtedly will boost the Yale secondary going forward.
“When [opponents] throw the bubble and you know Dale Harris is sitting right there, it feels pretty good,” Oplinger said. “And when you hear Dale hit them, it’s even better.”
That said, the Bulldog defense might have its toughest test of the year against a Fordham offense that leads the Patriot League with 45.8 points per game. Behind star running back Chase Edmonds, the Rams racked up an astounding 516 rushing yards and five ground touchdowns last week against Lafayette. Edmonds currently leads the FCS with 188.8 rushing yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2016. The junior comes into the bout with Yale on the heels of a 359-yard performance against Lafayette.
“[Edmonds] is the best tailback I’ve seen on film in my time at Yale, and we’ve had some great ones play here for us,” Reno said. “He reminds me of Tyler [Varga ’15]. [Edmonds] has great vision, he makes people miss when they shouldn’t, makes plays when there’s nothing there and has the ability to run through tackles. He’s an exceptional player.”
Yale owns the advantage in the rivalry’s history, having won five of the seven games it has played against Fordham, but the Rams are undefeated at home this year. Saturday’s kickoff in the Bronx is at 1 p.m..