Yale Athletics

With the Harvard-Yale clash fast approaching, the Yale football team will hit the road one final time this Saturday to take on the nationally ranked Princeton Tigers.

The Bulldogs (7–1, 4–1 Ivy) and their renowned offense are coming off a game that saw 627 yards of total offense and a 59-point onslaught against Brown — the highest number of points they have scored since 2003. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 has been on a tear as of late, throwing for a career-high in yards against Columbia and utterly dismantling a substandard Bruno secondary last Saturday, passing for an extraordinary 360 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.

Last weekend also showcased the talent of wideout tandem JP Shohfi ’20 and Reed Klubnik ’20. Ranking second and third, respectively, among all receivers in the Ancient Eight, both are enjoying seasons that have seen a combined offensive production to the tune of 1,519 yards — over 67 percent of Rawlings’ total passing yards. Shohfi, in particular, was uncontainable against the Bears in the red zone, tallying four touchdowns, which more than doubled his season total of three scores in the previous seven weeks. The Eli defense also resembled its earlier-season self during several key moments of last week’s matchup, forcing four turnovers, eight sacks and more than 10 tackles for a loss.

But as Team 147 suits up to take on the No. 19 Lions (7–1, 4–1 Ivy) on the latter’s home turf, a near perfect execution on both sides of the ball will be absolutely necessary for Yale to walk out of Powers Field with its hopes of an Ivy League crown still intact. Princeton ranks third in the entire conference in scoring defense and second in the Ivy League in both rushing and passing defense, thanks in large part to the disruptive presence of one of the top linebackers in the FCS: Jeremiah Tyler. While the Blue and White ranks higher than the Tigers in nearly every major offensive category, the gunslinger at the helm of Princeton’s offense, quarterback Kevin Davidson, edges Rawlings out as the highest-ranked passer in the Ivy League. This all sets the stage for two superlative football programs to commence battle.

“Princeton will be, what we feel, our toughest test of the season yet,” head coach Tony Reno said. “No discredit to any of the other great teams we have played. They present a lot of problems on both sides of the ball, they have a very aggressive and uptempo style of defense and possess arguably the best linebacker in the country in Jeremiah Tyler. Offensively, they’ve got a senior who’s thrown for a bunch of yards, an excellent receiving core and an offensive line that stays on blocks. This is going to be a very tough test for us, but our concern has always been on ourselves — continuing to grow as a team, focusing on winning plays, and responding when we need to.”

Princeton, riding its fourth-longest winning streak in program history at 17 games, faced off against Dartmouth last Saturday at Yankee Stadium in a showdown of the undefeated. The stakes could not have been higher for these two squads, with the winning team just about guaranteeing itself a share of the Ivy League title at the very least. While the Tigers came into the contest as the FCS leader in turnover margin, it was turnovers that would spell early disaster for Princeton. A pick-six and red zone fumble precipitated 17 first-half points for the Big Green. Dartmouth eventually broke the game open with a 21-yard touchdown run from quarterback phenom Jared Gerbino to begin fourth quarter play — handing Princeton its first loss since the final week of the 2017 season.

While Princeton enters this game at the end of a winning streak, Yale has put together four straight victories following its disastrous Dartmouth fixture. A turning point in the season for sure was the miraculous comeback against Richmond in which Rawlings found Klubnik as time expired to rescue a huge win. An unsung hero this season is kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20, who leads the Ivy League in both field goal makes and attempts. The senior has split the uprights on 10 of his 13 tries this year. Meanwhile, with his unreal four-touchdown performance against Brown, Shohfi leads the Ancient Eight in receiving scores with seven.

“We hear a lot about Reed [Klubnik] and JP [Shohfi] for good reason — they are extraordinary players,” defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 said. “However, our entire receiving core is deep, all of them can make big plays and open a game up extremely quickly. Going up against JP and Reed in practice has made me hone in on my technique because if you make one mistake, no matter how little, they will almost always catch the ball. If I find myself a little too far ahead of JP, he can just cut underneath in midair and catch it. Going against the entire receiving core has helped me grow and build my own confidence — if I can guard them, I can guard anyone.”

The Bulldog defense will need to bring its A-game to stop Davidson, who is enjoying a prolific year under center for the Tigers. The Eli secondary has changed the tide of games so far this season and Saturday could be no different. The terrible trio of defensive backs Rodney Thomas II ’21, Kyle Ellis ’22 and Dathan Hickey ’22 has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Hickey is tied for the most interceptions in the conference with three, with Ellis and Thomas ranking in the top five with two. These three have the skill to stifle Davidson and help the Bulldogs to a massive win come Saturday.

The Tigers have distinguished themselves through a strong defense, something the Elis will have to prepare for this weekend. Princeton leads the Ivy League in interceptions with a team total of 13 — defensive back Sultaan Shabazz has three to lead the unit. Linebacker Jeremiah Tyler has also been a standout this season, with ten solo tackles for a loss and 53 total tackles to his name.

“It’s nice to know that our offensive players are going to be where they’re supposed to be,” running back Zane Dudek ’21 said. “They watch film all week, they’ve experienced so many different plays throughout their time here and they know how each play and run can shape out. They’re not surprised by any look they get or anything a defensive player will do against them. It’s really nice knowing that I can trust that they’re going to be in the right spot and work as hard as they can to open up the holes that I need to run.”

Yale plays Princeton at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Powers Field in New Jersey.

 

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu