On the ground:
Yale’s rushing attack is one of the best in the FCS, let alone the Ivy League. Its 227.8 yards per game is almost 40 more than second-place Penn. Running back Zane Dudek ’21 has had a historic season, leading the Ivy League and breaking Yale’s rookie records. He ranks third in yards per carry and sixth in rushing yards in the FCS, landing him on the watch list for FCS Rookie of the Year. Despite missing time due to injury, Deshawn Salter ’18 has also been effective this season, ranking third in the Ancient Eight in yards.
While Harvard’s rush defense is stout, ranking third in the conference only behind Yale and Dartmouth, no team has held the Bulldogs under 130 yards in a game this season. Dudek and Salter have benefited from a veteran line composed of three seniors and two sophomores, a group that has avoided the injury shuffling that plagued last year’s unit.
Through the air:
In his second season, Kurt Rawlings ’20 has proved to be a reliable and dangerous pocket presence for the Elis. After sporting one of the worst passing offenses in the league last season, Yale now ranks third in the conference in passing yards despite also having the third fewest attempts. Rawlings has been accurate, boasting the second-best completion percentage and fewest interceptions, while also placing in the top three in yards and touchdowns. He has thrown for more than 280 yards in four contests this year.
After injury ended his junior season early, wideout Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 has been Rawlings’ top weapon on the outside, ranking fifth in the conference in catches. Tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 has excelled in the red zone, totaling four scores. Rawlings and company will face an average pass defense that ranks fourth in the Ivy League, and allowed 52 points to Princeton at home in Week 6.
On the ground:
The Crimson’s third-ranked rushing attack is spearheaded by Charlie Booker, who’s 81.4 yards per contest ranks between Dudek and Salter’s marks. However, Booker has broken the 100-yard mark only twice this fall and totaled just 82 yards over the past two weeks. Freshman runner Aaron Shampklin, as well as the Crimson quarterbacks, will also factor into Harvard’s ground attack.
Booker and company will be met by the most dominant rush defense in the Ancient Eight. The Elis allow only 2.6 yards per carry; their per game average is more than 20 yards better than second-place Dartmouth. The best performance of the season for the unit was the containment of Fordham’s Chase Edmonds, an NFL prospect. After the graduation of three starters in the front seven from last year, linebacker Matthew Oplinger ’18 has stepped up as one of the best defenders in the conference, landing him on the watch list for FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
Through the air:
The Crimson rank second to last in the conference in passing yards, a deficiency compounded by the quarterback uncertainties; in the victory over Columbia two weeks ago, freshman quarterback Jake Smith was benched after two interceptions in favor of Joe Viviano, last year’s starter in The Game. Both quarterbacks suited up last week and struggled against the Penn defense, amassing six points combined. Speedster Justice Shelton-Mosley, who was First-Team All-Ivy last season, is the team’s top weapon on the outside, though he averages just 43.1 yards per contest.
The Crimson will be met by a statistically-mediocre pass defense in Yale, though it is vastly improved from last season and allows the second-fewest yards per attempt. After a nightmare season last year, the Bulldogs’ secondary has four players in the top eight in terms of passes defended, those being captain Spencer Rymiszewski ’18, Hayden Carlson, ’18, Jason Alessi ’18 and Malcolm Dixon ’20. The strength of Yale’s pass defense, however, is its pass rush, which has harassed opposing quarterbacks all season. The FCS’s fourth-best pass rush is led by Oplinger, whose 9.5 sacks this year lead the Ivy League and rank third in the FCS.
In his 24th season, coach Tim Murphy of Harvard is one of the most accomplished coaches in Ivy history and a nine-time champion; yet his title hopes were spoiled last season by Tony Reno, who in his sixth season at the helm has won his first Ivy League title as head coach. Reno has proven a gutsy playcaller: in The Game last season, Reno called for an early fake field goal that led to Yale’s first touchdown of the contest. Afterwards, a surprise onside kick to start the second half led to another Yale score. Yale incorporates trickery into every field goal attempt or PAT attempt: Typically, the team lines up as if it will run an offensive play, only to shift back into field-goal formation; this unpredictability has proven successful this year, as the Bulldogs caught Columbia off guard in Week 7.
Harvard is formidable on special teams, as Shelton-Mosley is second in the FCS in punt return average and iby far the most dangerous return man in the Ancient Eight. He has run back two for touchdowns this year, though neither came against Ivy opponents. Yale has an established return man of its own, however, as Alessi was named Second-Team All-Ivy last season for his return skills. Additionally, Harvard is the most penalized team in the Ivy League, though Yale has benefited from the least number of infractions by the opposition this season.
Sebastian Kupchaunis | email@example.com