With a two-game road trip looming, the Yale football team is looking to handle its business at home against Columbia in a game that the Elis hope will launch them through the final weeks of the season with indispensable momentum.
The Bulldogs (5–1, 2–1 Ivy) have put on a splendid display of football in the two weeks following their despondent loss to Dartmouth. From a 90-second 13-point comeback to an offensive showdown that saw a combined turnout of 87 points, Team 147’s offense has finally begun to hit its stride at a most opportune time. The Blue and White ride a two-game winning streak into the Yale Bowl this weekend in a battle against the Lions (2–4, 1–2 Ivy) — a home-field matchup that the Bulldogs have lost just once in the last 22 years.
Yet, as has been the motto of this team ever since head coach Tony Reno has taken the reins, each season should be seen as independent from the others. This campaign, Columbia boasts a more talented roster than its record would suggest. While the Lions have struggled in passing and throwing the ball as of late — ranking near the bottom in most Ancient Eight offensive statistics — their defense is what has been the story at this point in the season. The squad ranks second in the Ivy League in defending against the pass to earn the third-best defensive efficiency in the conference. For the Elis to walk off the turf this Saturday at 6–1, they cannot let a first-rate Lion defense cool down any of the momentous fire that has been ever slowly building up in the offense.
“Columbia is a very good team,” Reno said. “As you know in this league, these are very good teams. They’re explosive on offense, they probably have the best receiving core we’ll face at this point in the season, two good quarterbacks — both who can run the offense efficiently — good backs and good offensive line. Defensively, they’ve been very strong for five years. They present some issues to the run game, they’re very good at defending the pass game and they put pressure on your receivers. These are the kind of games where we just need to find a way to score one more point. A lot of it is in the preparation that we can control throughout the week, and at the end of the week it’s just going to be us against ourselves. Can we essentially play a better game against ourselves this week than we did last week?”
Columbia, after beginning the season in dominating fashion with a 31–14 win over Saint Francis, has since gone on to drop four of its last five games. The most recent of these losses was a 59–24 thrashing at the hands of the Big Green. With the Lions down by a touchdown in the second quarter, quarterback Ty Lenhart managed to put together a 16-play drive that culminated in an 11-yard pass to receiver Josh Wainwright in the endzone to tie the game. That would be as close as Columbia would get, however, as Dartmouth would go on to score 42 unanswered points in just 11 minutes.
Columbia’s beatdown loss stood in stark contrast to how dominating the Lion offense and defense looked just a week prior. Against Penn, the offense was firing on all cylinders as Lenhart accumulated 253 total offensive yards with three touchdowns to boot, combined with a Lion running game that rushed for a season-high 255 yards. The Columbia defense was a force to be reckoned with — limiting Ivy League rushing leader Karekin Brooks to 93 yards, more than 30 yards below his average — as the Lions went on to register their largest homecoming victory in school history, 44–6.
Six games into the season, it has been the Lions defense that has stolen the show more often than not — a defense that has conceded less than 25 points in all but one of their games. The Bulldogs’ offensive line will have its work cut out for it come Saturday with the likes of defensive back Ben Mathiasmeier, who is tied for fourth in the Ancient Eight with a total of 40 tackles this year. Mathiasmeier is also one of three Lions with an interception and the only player with both a pick and a fumble recovery. Shifting deeper into the defensive line, defensive tackle Daniel DeLorenzi is poised to make his presence felt at the Yale Bowl as he comes into the game with three sacks on the season, as well as a total of four tackles for loss.
“We approach every game with an internal focus,” captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20 said. “Columbia is a really strong team in the league, but every game we play in the season is just as important, so we always go into games focused on how we can play our best game regardless of the opponent. Our mentality stays the same in that we just need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to prepare and make sure we execute our jobs.”
The script has flipped for Team 147 after it began the season with a stretch of games where the defense had to carry more of the load. Now, the Yale offense finally appears to have found its groove over these last two weeks, and the numbers support it. The squad currently ranks sixth in the FCS with 33 minutes and 47 seconds of possession — a stat that could spell trouble for the Lions come Saturday. The Blue and White have catapulted to number three in the conference’s offense ratings, and it will have to live up to that against a stout Columbia defense to be victorious.
While the offense has been the focal point of this team in recent weeks, the defense has continued the formidable style of play that it began the season with, as the squad has been averaging 7.7 tackles for loss this season — ranking 18th in the FCS. The Elis also have in their possession the third-ranked defense against the rush in the Ivy League, a defense coming off a week in which it held the top Ancient Eight rusher to more than 50 yards below his average.
“Our mentality remains the same, but with each week we want to really hone in and improve on the level of execution and communication,” defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 said. “We want to play fast and have an attack mindset for the entire game. And most importantly, have fun out there playing with one another because that’s when we are at our best. They are a good team so we just need to focus on playing our brand of football and be ready to respond and adapt.”
Yale is set to host Columbia next Saturday at noon.
Jared Fel | firstname.lastname@example.org