Looking for redemption after its worst defeat since November 2016, the Yale football team will take on its final out-of-conference opponent of the 2018 campaign this Saturday when Team 146 plays host to Mercer.

The Bulldogs (2–2, 1–1 Ivy) will host an unfamiliar face when they play Mercer (3–1, 2–1 Southern) in the programs’ first-ever meeting with the Bears, who are coming in hot off a two-game win streak. After a humbling 41–18 defeat to Dartmouth last week, the Elis will look to address some nagging questions before they dive into the second half of their season and look to rejuvenate their quest to repeat as Ivy champions.

“Friday night we had a tough setback,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Dartmouth outplayed us from start to finish. Credit to them and their staff and their players for how they played, prepared and performed. We were our own worst enemy in a lot of ways with turnovers and penalties on offense. We had the opportunity to cut it to a one score game and make it really interesting at the end, but we weren’t able to finish. It was a big learning moment for this young team, and I’m excited to move forward.”

After defeating No. 22 Maine squad in spectacular fashion the week before, Team 146 looked hapless against the still-undefeated Big Green, who hit the ground running in the first quarter and never looked back, accumulating 347 total rushing yards.

Mercer suspended its football program in 1942 and did not reinstate it until 2013. But despite its recent re-entry onto the college football scene, the Bears have played their fair share of top programs. In 2017, Mercer played the nation’s top football program, FBS national champion Alabama, and even managed to put up 10 points against another SEC heavyweight, Auburn. Despite falling by 42 points to Memphis to open this season, the Bears have faced and beat, a slew of formidable teams, including then-No. 9 Samford on the road.

Mercer arrives in the Yale Bowl, where it will be the first team from Georgia that Yale has faced since 1934, off of a 48–38 victory against Virginia Military Institute. In that game, running backs Tee Mitchell and Tyray Devezin racked up a total of 284 rushing yards and four touchdowns to carry the team to victory. Meanwhile, the status of Team 146’s ground game is still in question. Primary running backs Zane Dudek ’21 and Alan Lamar ’20 returned in limited capacity against Dartmouth after injury, and the question of who will run the ball for the Elis this weekend is still unanswered.

Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 continues to lead the Bulldogs’ aerial attack. But Rawlings, who has already been sacked 12 times this season, appeared banged up down the stretch against the Big Green and was subbed in on the Bulldogs’ final drive by backup signal caller Jimmy Check ’21.

Against a stifling Big Green defense, Yale’s 118 rushing yards paled in comparison to the runs by Dartmouth wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino. The Rush, N.Y. native tallied 169 yards on the day that the Elis were unable to stop the quarterback run game, play after play. Against Mercer, Yale’s young defense will look to bounce back from the key mistakes that allowed the Big Green to rack up massive yardage between the tackles.

“Defensively, earlier in the year it took us a bit to get going as far as playing together and giving an all-out effort for each other,” defensive lineman Spencer Matthaei ’20 said. “That’s something we’ve worked on and started to come into. We are starting to perform that way, and we are going to continue to play together. We’re growing with how hard we’re playing.”

Team 146’s defense is still looking to find its footing after graduating six All-Ivy selections — including linebacker Foye Oluokun ’18 who has already amassed 11 professional tackles in his first year in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

But despite the challenge of taking on a new foe and Mercer’s impressive experience against top-level teams, the Bulldogs are unfazed. They will look to execute efficiently on both sides of the ball, regardless of the team that comes through the tunnel on Saturday.

“I don’t really care if they played Auburn and Alabama because they haven’t played me,” kicker Alex Galland ’19 said. “That’s my attitude. They’re going to put a returner on the field, he’s going to have a jersey on, and I’m going to kick it away from him. My job is pretty simple. See the ball and kick it. They’re going to do some stuff well, but I’m going to do my stuff better.”

The contest against the Bears kickoff at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Angela Xiao  | angela.xiao@yale.edu

Cris Zillo  | cris.zillo@yale.edu