Lukas Flippo

After a strong defensive performance against Cornell, Yale is gearing up for an out-of-conference contest against Fordham — a game Elis are likely to dominate, lest the Bulldogs repeat their mistakes in the past three match-ups.

Yale (2–0, 1–0 Ivy) takes on Fordham (2–3, 0–0 Patriot League) on Saturday, with the Bulldogs looking to extend their early winning streak to three games. Defense has been a struggle for Fordham, giving up 45 and 57 points this season to Stony Brook and Ball State, respectively. Yale, meanwhile, has been anchored by its defense, with the secondary providing four pivotal picks last weekend versus Cornell. The Rams, after dropping their first two games of the season, have won two of their last three games in admirable fashion — having faced a double-digit halftime deficit in both.

When these two teams faced off two years ago, then-sophomore quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 put on an awe-inspiring performance, completing his first 14 pass attempts en route to a roaring 41–10 victory. Yet, perhaps the biggest storyline entering Saturday’s matchup is not any one person taking the field, but rather the one tucked away on the sideline. The last time Fordham’s head coach Joe Conlin stepped onto the field at the Yale Bowl, he was Yale’s offensive coordinator and played a pivotal role in coaching his Elis to a 24–3 victory over Harvard — securing the 2017 Ivy League Championship.

“Obviously, Joe and I are really close from the time we’ve spent coaching with each other,” coach Tony Reno said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons on the offensive side, two of the best backs we will see at this point in the season and they have the most speed we’ve seen at the receiver position. I think you’ll see a lot of similarities in the way the two teams play on Saturday.”

Although Yale sits undefeated so far this season, the Eli offense needs to get hot for the team to truly dominate. Currently, the Bulldogs sit at fifth in the Ancient Eight in terms of total offense, despite being ranked first in the standings. Yale has managed just six touchdowns this year, with kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20 recording three field goals to provide crucial offensive production. The defense, on the other hand, is thriving at second place in the conference. The unit has allowed just three touchdowns and has given up an average of 13 points per game.

Fordham’s offense is highly dependent on the run game. Running back Zach Davis sits on top of the Patriot League so far this year with 511 yards through five games. The junior also has two touchdowns and six catches out of the backfield. Quarterback Tim DeMorat has contributed his fair share to the offense as well, with 929 yards passing on the season and eight touchdowns.

“Anytime you get the opportunity to start off the game with the guys around you on defense, you want to make sure that you give it your all that you’re playing with a great intensity that Coach Reno demands from us on defense,” linebacker Micah Awodiran ’21 said. “We want to be a defense that plays really, really fast, one that can make plays in all three levels of defense. I think that us having that collective trust in one another was what was displayed against Cornell last week.”

Just last week, DeMorat and Davis led their offense to a hard-earned, 23-16 victory over an experienced Richmond team after facing a 10-point halftime deficit. Davis had his most impressive game as a Ram, averaging over 10 yards a carry and finishing with a career-high 146-yards rushing. Meanwhile, DeMorat has been responsible for all three touchdowns scored by the Fordham offense through his pass-run game. This combination will require careful attention from the Bulldog defenders.

While not as proficient as it could be, Yale’s offense is still producing respectable numbers. Running back Zane Dudek ’21 is having an impressive comeback year, slotting in at fourth in the conference in terms of rushing. The junior has run for 187 yards on 43 attempts, averaging out to about 94 yards each game. In fact, the tandem of Rawlings and Dudek will be crucial to the offense this weekend against Fordham, just as they were two years ago in the Bronx. Rawlings completed every pass he threw in the first quarter, helping the Bulldogs jump out to a 21–0 lead before the Ram defense could even catch its collective breath. Dudek would finish the game with 56-yards rushing and two touchdowns to boot in a commanding 41–10 win.

This game also marks the return of Conlin. Having coordinated under Reno, the former Bulldogs coach is extremely familiar with Yale’s offensive style of play.

“We’ve been playing loose on defense and just flying around having fun,” defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 said. “Communication has been a point of emphasis this year from every level which has been key and has to continue to be an emphasis going forward. But our goal still aligns with the team goal: play to the standard we set for ourselves every play.”

The contest against the Rams kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, in what will be coach Reno’s first time ever facing a former assistant coach.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu