The Yale football team’s first Friday night game at the Yale Bowl did not quite go according to plan — the team suffered a 35-point defeat at the hands of defending Ivy League champion Penn last week — but the Bulldogs have the chance to flip the script in their second consecutive Friday night conference matchup, this time against Columbia.
The Elis (1–5, 1–2 Ivy) accumulated momentum after beating Dartmouth and holding their own against a tough Fordham team before the Oct. 21 setback against Penn. In both those matchups, the team relied on a deep running game as quarterback Tre Moore ’19 and the passing game have remained stagnant. Yet the biggest reason for the Bulldogs’ lackluster 1–5 record entering their matchup with the Lions (2–4, 1–2 Ivy) has been their defense, which has struggled against the air attack all season.
“After two weeks of playing really well against Dartmouth and at Fordham, we obviously didn’t play well against a really good Pennsylvania team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They played a really good football game, clean on both sides, and they exploited our mistakes. A lot of the things we did really well the previous two weeks we didn’t do on Friday night.”
Friday night will be a good opportunity for the Eli defense to regain some confidence after facing powerhouse offenses — Lehigh, Fordham and Penn — in three of the past four weeks. The Bulldog defense currently ranks as the worst overall unit in the Ivy League in terms of both points and total yardage.
The Bulldogs will face the Ivy League’s weakest offense in Columbia, which has averaged just 11.7 points per contest. In Ivy League play, the Lions have not only scored the least amount of points, but have also ceded the most to their opponents.
Columbia quarterback Anders Hill has averaged just 124.3 yards per game in 2016, with a single passing touchdown and two interceptions on the season. The Lions are the only team worse than Yale at passing the ball, managing just 150 yards per contest. To compound its offensive woes, Columbia has found little success on the ground, and its rushing offense is ranked second-to-last in the Ancient Eight. Still, thanks to two-time Rookie and Special Teams Player of the Week kicker Oren Milstein, the Lions have managed to eke out wins over Dartmouth and Wagner.
“‘Frustrating’ would be a good word to describe [the team morale] when you’re putting in the work and not getting results,” kicker and punter Alex Galland ’19 said. “But I think everyone understands we’re still in a good place to win football games, so it’s not like the year is a wash, and it’s time to pack it up. We’re ready to play some more games.”
The Lion’s offense, which has a 51 percent completion rate and two passing touchdowns on the season, will not present the same challenges as the Quaker offense, which completed 72 percent of its passes last week and boasts an Ivy-best 13 passing touchdowns.
However, Columbia has won two contests this season with stellar defensive performances, ceding just 20 combined points in those victories. The Lions rank third and fifth in the Ivy League against the pass and run, respectively, due in part to the team’s size up front.
Considering Columbia’s strength in defending the pass and Yale’s deficiencies in that same area, the Elis will undoubtedly opt to place a heavy burden on the running backs, as they have most of the season. Alan Lamar ’20 returned from injury after missing the week five game against Fordham and totaled an impressive 123 yards from scrimmage with a receiving touchdown.
While Dale Harris ’17 mostly saw time at cornerback against Penn out of necessity, his four-touchdown performance against Fordham still lingers, and he could see a few more carries this week. While running back Candler Rich ’17 is likely out for an extended period due to injury, Deshawn Salter ’18 dressed and went through warmups against Penn and seemed close to a return.
“We harp on process a lot,” tight end Sebastian Little ’17 said. “We try to avoid the word ‘outcome’. The thing I’m most proud of [about] this team is our process hasn’t changed. I’m proud of my teammates, the way that we prepare and the way we go about our process. Unfortunately, our outcome on game day is not where we want it to be, but that doesn’t take away from the amount of effort and preparation.”
The Lions suffered the same fate as Yale when they faced Penn two weeks ago, falling 35–10 before bouncing back to beat Dartmouth 9–7 in week six.
In the Bulldogs’ and Lions’ most recent meeting, Columbia shocked the Elis at the Yale Bowl to pick up its first conference win in almost three years, toppling Yale 17–7.
On Friday, the Bulldogs will look for redemption in New York at 7 p.m.