When the Yale football team hosts No. 11 Princeton this Saturday in its final home game, it will face a juggernaut — the likes of which the Ivy League has not encountered in some time. Following their nail-biting victory over previously unbeaten No. 23 Dartmouth (7–1, 4–1 Ivy), the Tigers (8–0, 5–0) need just a single victory in their final two games of the season to lock up their third Ancient Eight title since 2013. Princeton ranked fifth in the country according to the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group (YUSAG) power rankings led by star senior quarterback John Lovett, comes to New Haven to take on the Elis (5–3, 3–2). So what is driving the Tigers’ success, and how might Team 146 slow down the prolific Tiger offense?
Princeton has firepower on both sides of the ball: It boasts the first-ranked scoring offense as well as the second-ranked scoring defense in the country. Through the eight games, the Tigers’ play has also been extremely disciplined with the Orange and Black accumulating the fewest penalties in the U.S. Princeton’s performance in 2018 has not just been good; rather, it has been some of the best the Ivy League has witnessed in recent memory. The Tigers are scoring more points per game (46.1) than any team since at least 2012 (as far back as our stats database goes) and gaining more yards per game (519.4) than any team since Yale in 2014. In addition, Princeton is allowing the fewest points per game (9.1) since at least 2012, preventing opposing offenses from finding the end zone at an extremely high level while letting their offense build insurmountable leads in the process.
Keys to the Game
The Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them against the Tigers, but victory is not out of the question if they excel in these facets of the game.
First, the team must convert on third down. Yale excels at moving the chains on offense, possessing the only third down conversion rate in the Ivy League (53.3 percent) higher than Princeton’s 50.8 percent. Ensuring their offense stays on the field to keep Princeton’s Lovett on the sidelines will be immensely important for the Elis.
Second, the Elis have to play fourth down aggressively. Princeton is an incredible 15–17 converting on fourth down, which ranks third in the nation.
Third, Yale needs to stay disciplined. The Bulldogs have been penalized twice as much as Princeton this season and will need to avoid the costly mistakes that would gift yards to an already incendiary Tigers’ offense.
And finally, Team 146 must take care of the ball. Princeton has forced 10 more takeaways than turnovers, while Yale has turned the ball over seven more times than its respective opponents to make for a 17-point difference in the turnover margin between the two sides. Taking care of the ball on the offense will be a must for the Elis on Saturday in order to prevent Princeton from accumulating any takeaways it could then convert into points.
So just how much of a chance does Yale have this weekend? According to the YUSAG Football Championship Subdivision model, the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s contest with a 26 percent chance of upsetting the Tigers as a 14.5-point underdog. With a win on Saturday, the Tigers would clinch at least a share of the Ivy League championship, mirroring Yale’s own title-clinching victory against Princeton at this time last season. The thought of seeing their rivals celebrate at the Yale Bowl may just be the motivation the Bulldogs need to pull out the victory.
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