Courtesy of Jack Warhola
Returning home after an embarrassing loss to Columbia, who had previously not tasted victory against an Ivy League opponent, the Yale football team must fight to remain in the top half of the league in taking on conference opponent Brown this weekend.
The Elis (4–3, 2–2 Ivy) entered the season with hopes of defending their first solo Ivy crown since 1980 but have since seen the possibility of back-to-back titles dwindle. Although the Bulldogs recovered from a poor early-season showing against Dartmouth to beat Penn, last weekend’s defeat to the Lions highlighted the outsized impact of the loss of quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20.
With two weeks of practice under the belt of Rawlings’ replacement, Jimmy Check ’21, Team 146 will play dead-last Brown (1–6, 0–4) on Saturday. While the Bulldogs and Bears battle it out in the Bowl, undefeated league-leaders Princeton and Dartmouth will take on each other in a contest whose outcome will likely determine this year’s Ivy champion. To at least keep themselves in numerical contention for a share of the crown, the Elis must take the opportunity against the Bears to translate offensive yardage to scoring.
“Obviously, it’s always going to be tough when a guy like Kurt goes down because of his ability as a player and a leader,” wideout JP Shohfi ’20 said. “We definitely have the mentality of ‘the next guy,’ and as an offense we have the utmost confidence in any of our quarterbacks to go in there and lead the troops. We had our opportunities, and we didn’t finish when we needed to. There are definitely some inconsistencies [in our season], which we need to work on as an offense.”
The Elis will look to clean up their miscues against a dismal Brown team that has come out victorious in just one of its seven contests and ranks last in both offense and defense in the Ivy League. Led by quarterback Michael McGovern, who has tallied five touchdowns and 1,409 yards through the air, the Bears travel to New Haven looking to down last season’s champion and etch out their first Ancient Eight victory of the year.
Yale will look to put away Brown early through finishing drives and capitalizing on turnover opportunities, all of which have been a point of emphasis for the team recently since botching 16 turnover opportunities — nine of which were dropped interceptions.
“When you look at us defensively, we’re creating opportunities, but we are not finishing on the plays,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It’s very similar to the offense, where we’re not finishing. Those are game-changing plays where guys are working their tails off to be in position to make those plays. With that number of opportunities, you can’t expect to get every single one of them, but you expect to get a large number of them. That’s really been a thorn in our side.”
Both squads enter the Bowl on Saturday off low-point, one-score losses. The Bears played their closest game of the year against Penn last week and held the Quakers to just 13 points. Despite a successful defensive campaign against a Penn squad that averages 20 points a game, Brown’s offense managed just seven points of its own for its worst offensive output of the campaign.
On Saturday, Yale’s defense will be key in limiting Brown’s possession time, with which the Bears have struggled this season. Brown averages 25 minutes of offensive possession a contest while the Elis tally almost ten minutes more. Yale will look to convert the advantage in possession onto the scoreboard.
While Team 146’s title hopes have unexpectedly waned — a preseason media poll picked Yale to finish atop the league again — standings have otherwise reflected expectations.
Yale currently sits in a three-way tie with Penn and Cornell — a pair of teams the Bulldogs defeated with Rawlings still at the helm — behind Dartmouth and Princeton in the standings. Behind the trio, Columbia and Harvard sit in another tie while Brown brings up the rear. The Crimson’s current standing is not completely reflective of its performance this season, which boasts a particularly effective defense and held the conference’s strongest teams to their narrowest margins of victory. Harvard fell by four, eight and seven points to Cornell, Princeton and Dartmouth respectively.
Perennial powerhouse Princeton has dominated the stat sheet so far, most recently putting up 66 points against Cornell while holding the Big Red scoreless. With the exception of their upcoming contest against each other, the Tigers and the Big Green have both already taken on their most realistic threat, Harvard, and emerged victorious.
The Tigers pulled off a comparatively tight 29–21 victory over Harvard in week five, and Dartmouth also downed the Crimson by one score last week. The contest against the Crimson aside, Princeton’s staggering offense has put no less than 45 points on the board each week while, on average, defeating their opponents by a margin of 50-9. The Elis will host Princeton after Brown and before travelling to Fenway Park to close the season against Harvard.
“Throughout practice, we’ve had to be really intentional this week,” defensive back Rodney Thomas II ’21 said. “All the guys are really excited to get back after the last [game]. We’ll bounce back pretty smooth … if we just play our game, be consistent with that, then we’ll be fine no matter what team we face.”
The contest against the Bears will kickoff at 1 p.m. at the Yale Bowl on Saturday.
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