The Yale football team, with its revitalized, invigorated defense, will be put to one of the biggest tests of the season. In a clash against Brown — the team boasting one of the most proficient offenses in the Ancient Eight — the Elis will test their strength this weekend.
The Bulldogs (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) are coming off a week against Columbia that saw the Elis’ offense do what has become expected at this point in the season: 580 yards of total attack that translated into 45 points. In the process, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and wideout J. P. Shohfi ’20 set career highs in passing and receiving yards, respectively. Yet, what stood out most about the game was not the offensive production — a performance emblematic of the past few weeks — but rather the potential for a dominant defense. While Team 147’s defense was thriving over the first two games of the season — allowing an average of just 13 points — it seemed to falter over the next four tilts. The team conceded more than 40 points in half of those contests. On Saturday, however, the Elis’ defense more than rose to the occasion, holding the Lions to just 28 yards on the ground and 165 passing yards. The Bulldogs also racked up four sacks and two turnovers.
This week, as the squad hits the road to Providence in a matchup against the Bears (1–6, 0–4 Ivy), the Blue and White will need another dominant showing from its defense. Brown holds in its possession one of the most high-powered offenses in the entire conference. At the helm is quarterback E. J. Perry — an Football Bowl Subdivision transfer who has made his Football Championship Subdivision presence felt in resounding fashion this season. Perry sits second in national FCS ranking with 351 yards of total offense per game. Just a few weeks ago, the 512 yards of total offense he put up against URI placed the junior second in Brown football history. As a team, the Bears are averaging nearly 440 total yards per game — third in the Ivy League. If Yale hopes to come out of Providence with its fourth consecutive victory, it goes without saying that the Bulldog defense must come out playing ferocious, aggressive football to keep Brown’s lethal offense to a minimum.
“The expectation is to continue to improve each week,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’ve got a great opponent in Brown this Saturday. They’re scoring points by the boatload, they’ve got an FBS transfer at quarterback. They’re playing really good football right now, so we’ve got to play our very best. Like we say every week, we play a game against ourselves, so we just have to worry about ourselves and that we play our stuff to our standards. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of this team and it’s very exciting to watch how we have progressed moving forward.”
Brown began its season with an offensive bang against Bryant University, bursting for 35 points and intercepting a pass on the goal line to preserve a five-point win as the game’s final play. But the season has gone downhill from there, as the Bears went on to drop their next six games. In fact, last week’s game against Penn was representative of Brown’s season as a whole. Finding themselves down 16 points halfway through the third quarter, the doggedness and perseverance that Bruno epitomized all season long was on full display. With a chip-shot field goal bringing the Bears to within 13, Perry, from that point on, would not be willing to settle for a measly three — concocting two consecutive touchdown drives him to give his defense a one-point lead with four minutes remaining.
Still, for the second week in a row, the Bear defense failed to close out the contest — giving up a game-winning 74-yard scoring drive that consumed all but two seconds, setting up a 22-yard field goal that handed Brown its sixth loss in many games. The game was a microcosm of the Bears’ season in several regards, the first: they possess one of the most dangerous offenses in the conference. Through seven games, Brown ranks third in both total offense and passing offense, thanks in large part to the quarterbacking prowess of Perry. He not only ranks second in the Ancient Eight in passing, but has statistically been the fifth best rusher in the entire conference — one tick above Yale’s own running back Zane Dudek ’21. In total yards of offense per game, Perry is ranked first by a margin of more than 50 yards, making it safe to assume that the Blue and White defense will have its work cut out for it Saturday.
“We have really challenged ourselves to prioritize play action over true drop-back sets,” defensive lineman Reid Nickerson ’22 said. “These were some things that we weren’t really thinking about at the beginning of the year. As the year went on, changing our mindset to where we can identify action passes and attack the quarterback early and often. Perry is explosive, you have to stick to your contain and make sure that you don’t get outside your job — a mobile quarterback will beat you the most when you get outside of your framework and try to do too much. If everyone focuses on just doing their job we should have success in containing him.”
Yale’s offense seems to be hitting its stride at the moment — emphasized by last weekend’s domination over Columbia. The 45-point scoreline was only appropriate, as the Bulldogs accumulated a whopping 27 first downs and 580 yards of total offense on the day. Rawlings flirted with a 400 yard game for the second straight contest, passing for two scores as well. Meanwhile, Shohfi personified a captain’s contribution, totaling 189 yards receiving. This is the second straight game that the California native has broken into triple digits catching the ball. Wideout Reed Klubik ’20 has been just as prolific in recent weeks, with his 664 yards receiving good for second in the Ivy League.
The running game for the Bulldogs has been up and down this year, but Dudek showed signs of his previous brilliance in the Columbia game. Notably, the junior stranded the helpless Lion secondary with a deft juke before darting down the sideline for 55 yards and a touchdown. Dudek, despite lacking his tremendous first year production, still ranks sixth in the Ivy League in rushing yards. Brown is currently ranked as the second worst rush defense in the Ancient Eight, so look for Dudek and running back Alan Lamar ’20 to break out for big games. The senior has been quiet in recent weeks but could be deadly in exploiting Brown’s weakness against the rush, as he is a weapon in the option with Rawlings.
The Brown matchup against Penn further exemplified how the Bear defense as a whole has been less than subpar this season. It ranks last in the Ivy League in both scoring and total defense, as well as defending against the pass. With the way that Rawlings has been slinging the ball these past two weeks — compiling a total of 778 passing yards — the Bear secondary is definitely something that the Bulldogs could exploit. Switching to the defensive unit of the Elis, the squad has been the third best team in the conference at limiting the run. Yet, statistically, Team 147 ranks towards the bottom in pass defense, making the task of limiting Perry all the more daunting.
“After the Dartmouth loss, I wouldn’t say that too many things changed with our defense,” linebacker John Dean ’21 said. “We just made a few minor adjustments, but the goals were still the same from the beginning of the season to after the Dartmouth game. Now we are just focused on getting ourselves better and not worrying about … the opponent, but that we’re getting better every single week.”
Yale travels to Brown Stadium to face off against the Bears at 12:30 p.m on Saturday.
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