Robbie Short

The lights will be shining overhead at the Yale Bowl this Friday night as the Bulldogs host the first night game in the Bowl’s 102-year history. After three ugly performances to start the season, the Elis put together two promising showings — a win against Dartmouth and a one-score loss to Fordham — and are set to finish the season with a crucial five-game stretch of Ivy League play.

Yale (1–4, 1–1 Ivy) will need a victory against Penn (3–2, 2–0) to stay in contention for the program’s 15th Ivy League championship. Penn enters the Friday night clash undefeated in the Ivy League and on the heel of three straight wins. Despite a slow start to the season, a win for the Bulldogs would nevertheless catapult them into a tie for second place in the Ancient Eight.

“From Lehigh to now we’ve really grown [on offense, defense and special teams] and we have to continue to make those incremental jumps,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’ve got a really good [Penn] team coming into the Bowl on Friday night. They have a veteran offense with arguably the best quarterback in the league, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The Bulldogs turned in one of their best performances of the season this past weekend against Fordham, despite losing 44–37. Yale held the top rushing offense in the Football Championship Subdivision to just 157 yards while the Eli rushing attack piled up 324 yards. Yale now is the top rushing offense in the Ivy League with 184.8 yards per game.

It is possible that the unit will be even more productive next week if running backs Deshawn Salter ’18 and Alan Lamar ’20 return from the injuries that sidelined them against the Rams. However, the status of tailback Candler Rich ’17 is now also in question after the junior injured his posterior cruciate ligament in Saturday’s loss.

Even if three running backs are unable to play, Yale’s ground attack will still be formidable with Dale Harris ’17 in the mix. Harris went for 136 yards and a career-high four touchdowns last week, earning him an All-Ivy honorable mention. Although he has played large chunks of the last two games at cornerback as well, the fatigue of playing on both sides of the ball has had seemingly no effect on the senior’s productivity.

“Being so back and forth, I’ve learned to play each side,” Harris said. “It’s really nothing new, so keeping my focus and knowing my keys are really the big things.”

Quarterback Tre Moore ’19 also excelled as a runner last week, totaling 130 yards on the ground withholding negative yards from sacks. But Moore and Yale’s passing offense continued to struggle last week, as the sophomore mustered just 103 yards on 13 completions to go along with a costly pick-six.

The Elis will have a prime opportunity to get their passing game back on track this week against a Penn secondary that currently ranks seventh in the Ivy League, trailing all but Yale in that category. The Bulldogs will hope for the return of receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, who missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle.

Although the Quaker defense has given up 271.4 passing yards per game this year, the group proved opportunistic against the Bulldogs last season. Penn picked off Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 three times in the red zone in a 34–20 victory over the Elis en route to finishing the season tied with Harvard and Dartmouth for first in the Ivy League.

Most of Penn’s key offensive pieces are returning from last season, including quarterback Alek Torgersen, who threw for four touchdowns against the Bulldogs last October. While he has not thrown for more than 241 yards in a game this season, Torgersen has thrown just two interceptions on the year.

The senior signal-caller will also have his full array of weapons from last season’s title campaign. Wide receivers Justin Watson and Christian Pearson combined for 238 receiving yards against Yale last year, and Watson — one of 22 players named to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — currently ranks second in the Ivy with 86.2 receiving yards per game.

However, the Quaker offense has been most productive when Torgersen hands the ball off. Penn ranks second in the Ivy League in rushing offense, trailing Yale by less than a yard per game, and running back Tre Solomon leads the Ivy League with 99.6 rushing yards per game.

While Yale’s defense limited the most productive running back in the FCS, Fordham’s Chase Edmonds, to just 121 yards last week, the Elis were exploited once again through the air — this time for five touchdowns.

“Eliminating mental mistakes and keeping constant pressure on the quarterback are the keys to stopping an explosive offense like Penn,” Yale captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said.

Entering Friday night’s bout, Yale ranks last in the Ivy League in points allowed by a wide margin, surrendering an average of 40.4 points per game. The Bulldogs’ showdown against the Quakers kicks off Friday at 7 p.m.