The Yale football team saw a potential third victory slip through its fingers in Providence last Saturday and now faces a daunting two-game stretch to finish the season. A week before The Game, the Bulldogs will face off against a Princeton team which has both the highest scoring offense and stingiest defense in the Ivy League.
The Elis (2–6, 2–3 Ivy) had their best game both passing the ball and defending the air attack against Brown in Week 8, but it was not enough to overcome a 12-point first half deficit and three turnovers. Princeton (6–2, 4–1) is coming off a 28–0 rout of then-league leading Penn last weekend, dominating a Quaker team that beat the Bulldogs by 35 in late October.
“I really feel that we haven’t played our best game yet and we’ve had really good quarters and really good periods of time, but we haven’t put it all together yet,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’re going to turn over every rock to make that happen in the next two weeks.”
The Yale offense, which ranks seventh in the Ivy League in terms of both points and yards, netted 308 total yards against Brown. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 threw for 252 yards but gave up two interceptions. The freshman established a strong connection with receivers Reed Klubnik ’20 and JP Shohfi ’20, who combined for 177 yards and 13 catches on Saturday.
Reno has not yet announced whether Rawlings or Tre Moore ’19, who started five games this season, will get the nod against the Tigers.
“Every position guys compete all week and we’ll see if Kurt is still the number one at the end of the week.” Reno said. “We really pride ourselves on guys competing.”
Running back Alan Lamar ’20 continued his strong play, totaling 77 yards and two scores on 20 touches against the Bears. Through four games, the freshman has five touchdowns and boasts a 121.5 yards per game average — second in the league.
Opposing the talented freshman runner will be a stout Princeton defense that allows a conference-low 88 yards per game on the ground. While the Tiger’s pass defense ranks only sixth in the Ivy League, the unit has been opportunistic, managing 10 interceptions in eight contests. Additionally, Princeton has surrendered an average of just 10 points per Ivy-League game.
The Princeton offense poses just as menacing a threat as the defensive unit. The Tigers will bring the top rushing offense in the Ancient Eight to the Yale Bowl on Saturday, totaling 23 touchdowns on the season and an average of 182.6 yards per game. The Bulldog front-seven, meanwhile, cedes an average of 150.1 yards per game to opponents on the ground and will need to step up to contend with the Princeton ground attack.
Scoring 36.6 points per game against Ivy opponents, the Tigers have relied on their passing game all season through the air. Princeton utilizes a unique two-quarterback system in which both signal callers see significant playing time.
Starting quarterback Chad Kanoff is traditionally the team’s passing arm, averaging 176 yards per game, while quarterback John Lovett — who has played several positions this year — takes charge over the run game. He has accounted for a whopping 24 touchdowns this season — nine through the air and 15 on the ground. Lovett’s rushing touchdown mark is more than double that of the nearest Ivy League competitors, as Penn’s Tre Solomon and Harvard’s Semar Smith sit in a tie for second in the Ancient Eight with just seven.
The Eli secondary has continued to improve after a rough start to the season. While the unit is still last in the Ancient Eight in terms of passing yards allowed, the margin has narrowed significantly and the Bulldog defensive backs are coming off a strong two-game stretch against Columbia and Brown. Safety Hayden Carlson ’18 is second in the Ivy League in tackles, averaging just under 10 per contest, and first in turnovers thanks to his three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
The Bulldog defense has also generated seven turnovers in the last two games, an increase that Carlson attributed to a new mindset.
“It’s a change in mentality that starts in practice,” Carlson said. “We’ve really focused on playing 11-as-1.”
That Princeton’s lone conference loss came against Harvard is significant and gives the Bulldogs to opportunity to play spoiler to not one but two of its biggest rivals. Though the Elis have been mathematically eliminated from title contention, a win over the Tigers guarantees the Crimson at least a share of their fourth-consecutive title. Should the Bulldogs fall to Princeton but beat Harvard, Princeton can earn a share of the title with a win over Dartmouth in the final week of the season.
Title aspirations aside, many around the program consider the two HYP games to be “a second season.”
“[Alumni will] come from all parts of the country and the world for this ball game,” former head coach Carmen Cozza said. “It’s very special and the players want to do everything they can to send the seniors out with a victory.”
Saturday’s contest at the Yale Bowl, the 139th meeting of the Tigers and the Bulldogs, will kickoff at 12:30 p.m.