The Yale football team comes into Week 8 of the Ivy League season sitting on top of the pile after dashing Columbia’s undefeated season with a 23–6 win. The victory pushed the Bulldogs into a tie for first place in the conference, and they sit in the driver’s seat to claim at least a share of the spoils at season’s end.
But Team 145 (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) cannot rest on its laurels Friday night in a potential trap game against Brown (2–5, 0–4). The Bears, who have lost all four of their Ancient Eight matchups by an average margin of more than 26 points, travel to New Haven on a short week to face the Elis in a nationally televised contest. Although its opponent ranks last in the conference in offense and defense, from both a scoring and total-yardage perspective, Yale must be careful not to overlook its competition in an eminently-winnable game.
“We’ve had seven big games, and we have number eight on [Friday],” head coach Tony Reno said. “For us our focus is on today and getting better today. We don’t look at things like the rest of the world does. We don’t look at our opponent [or] the game [or] the atmosphere. We focus on winning plays, and we have standards. Our job is to play to our standards. I don’t care who you put out there.”
Against Columbia a week ago, the Bulldogs walked away from the Yale Bowl with a resounding 17-point triumph. Still, neither Reno nor the players felt the team met the program’s standards in several categories.
Although the Elis ran the ball at will against the Lions, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and the normally-steady passing game struggled, amassing just 127 yards through the air. Rawlings seemed hesitant to release the ball on several occasions, resulting in two sacks, the most he’s taken in one game all season. Additionally, Reno pointed to penalties against the secondary, a lack of consistent pressure on the quarterback and a failure to execute on third down as potential points of improvement.
If there were a game in which the Team 145 could iron out its issues, it would be tonight’s contest against Brown. The Bears, the only team without a conference victory through four weeks of Ivy League competition, sit in the league basement, with dismal numbers across the board. Still, Reno understands the importance of executing in a game like this, even if it comes against the cellar-dweller of the Ancient Eight.
“The thing people don’t realize [is that] the margin between being successful on a Saturday and not successful on a Saturday is razor thin,” Reno said. “Brown has had some really good wins. The first couple of wins they had [were] against Rhode Island and Bryant, two good teams. They’ve had some very close ball games.”
The Bears’ lone pair of victories this season, over Rhode Island and Bryant, came by a total of eight points against teams with a combined record of 5–11. In its previous three Ivy League matchups, Brown has struggled, scoring just two touchdowns while surrendering 104 points on defense. The Bears, who lost five of their six 2016 All-Ivy selections to graduation, come into the Yale Bowl with an anemic team on both sides of the ball.
The offensive game plan for Yale tonight should be relatively simple: Run the ball. Brown ranks last in the conference in rushing defense, conceding an average of 222.5 yards per contest. Expect running back Zane Dudek ’21 — who was recently named to the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Watch List for the top rookie in the Football Championship Subdivision — to anchor Yale’s rushing attack, which ranks 13th nationally in rushing yards per game.
Dudek ran for 173 yards on 25 carries last week versus Columbia after Deshawn Salter ’18 went down with an injury. The 5-foot-9 tailback also helped set up a late touchdown and killed precious seconds off the clock in the final 6:09 en route to earning STATS FCS National Rookie of the Week honors. In his first season of college football, Dudek currently ranks second among all FCS players with an 8.4 yards per carry average and is one of several freshmen making an immediate impact for Team 145 this season.
“We have a lot of young guys playing, and [we’ve been] able to bring them along to get them to accept the culture,” right guard Anders Huizenga ’18 said. “On offense, in particular, there’s no egos, which is a huge part of what we’ve been able to accomplish. You can’t force culture upon players on the team. What we’ve been really able to do is get guys to buy into the culture of what we’re creating here and to come every day and bring it and have fun.”
One area of concern for the Bulldogs could lie in the battle for field position. While punter Alex Galland ’19 has excelled in pinning opposing teams inside their own 20-yard line and flipping the field for Yale this season, he trails Brown punter Ryan Kopec in overall punting average. Kopec, who has two more punts inside the 20 than Galland, earned a spot on the Ivy League honor roll after the junior averaged 47.8 yards on eight punts with a long of 59 in his team’s 17–7 defeat to Penn last week.
Meanwhile, Yale’s front seven, led by linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18, should be licking its chops heading into this game. Brown ranks last in the Ivy League in sacks allowed, having allowed 22 through seven games. The Bulldogs’ pass rush, which leads the FCS in team sacks per game, will look to apply constant pressure on quarterback Nicholas Duncan, who owns the lowest completion percentage and passing average in the Ancient Eight.
“On defense … you all have to kind of play as one unit,” Oplinger said. “That’s the hardest part of working as a defense is being able to understand that you’re just relying on the guy next to you to fill the gap, to stop the pass, to get pressure, etc. We have a bunch of guys who are really accountable. It allows other guys to go out, be aggressive and try and take a shot. No one plays outside of their means, but that aggressiveness has really helped us.”
The Bulldogs and Bears will kickoff tonight at 8 p.m. from the Yale Bowl.
Won Jung | firstname.lastname@example.org
Joey Kamm | email@example.com