Surbhi Bharadwaj

The Yale football team’s (8–1, 5–1 Ivy)  51–14 victory against Princeton last Saturday was still not enough to catapult the Bulldogs into the driver’s seat of the Ivy League. Dartmouth had gone undefeated during the first eight weeks of the season, and a Big Green loss against Cornell — a team with the second worst record in the league — seemed quite improbable this late into the year. Lady luck would travel toHanover, however, as a Cornell interception in the final two minutes sealed the Big Red’s first road victory against a ranked Ivy League opponent in nearly seven decades.

Dartmouth’s loss sets the stage for what should be an exhilarating 136th edition of “The Game” at the Yale Bowl this Saturday, when the Bulldogs face off in college football’s second-oldest rivalry against Harvard (4–5, 2–4 Ivy). The Crimson limps into New Haven this weekend on a four-game losing streak, but those losses have come by a combined 20 points, lowlighted by a devastating last-second defeat to an unbeaten Dartmouth team on a Hail Mary. For Team 147 to finish its 2019 campaign with a win – guaranteeing a share of the Ivy League crown — the Blue and White will need to rely on its potent passing game and wreak havoc on the opposing defensive line, among other things.

New Haven, We Have Liftoff 

In the nine weeks leading up to this ultimate game of the season, the Crimson surrendered a game average of just 86 yards on the ground. Harvard boasts a top-ranked rush defense in the Ancient Eight by a nearly 30-yard margin. While Yale is equipped with the third-rated rush attack in the Ivy League from a statistical standpoint, averaging 4.3 yards a carry, the squad should fair far better in this matchup by sticking with its bread and butter: passing the pigskin. The numbers speak for themselves. The Bulldogs have the number one passing offense in the Ancient Eight with an average of 312 yards per game, while Harvard ranks towards the middle of the pack in defending against throws.

At the helm of Team 147’s offense is the most prolific passing trio in the history of the program: quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and receiving duo JP Shohfi ’20 and Reed Klubnik ’20. These three have been defensive coordinators’ living nightmares all season long and collectively hold a whopping 13 league-leading stat categories. Yale should also be on the lookout for the Crimson’s notoriously lethal pass rush that has collected a league-high 38 sacks this fall, with Rawlings able to exploit Harvard’s aggressive blitzing with timely lateral passes to his elite group of backs that comprise Team 147’s backfield.

Make Jake Miss 

The last time these two rivals met at Fenway Park, Jake Smith spent the afternoon on the sideline. The junior was snubbed the start in the all-important showdown but has been productive as the go-to-guy this year. However, the Michigan native has exhibited a tendency to throw picks. In fact, Smith started the 2019 campaign by throwing at least one interception in his first six games, capped off by a three-pick afternoon against Princeton. Although Smith has yet to throw a pass to the other team in the last three Harvard games, the dynamite defensive backs of Yale will be eager to pounce on any errant throws. The Bulldog defensive backfield has garnered 10 interceptions this year, led by stand-out defensive backs Kyle Ellis ’22 and Dathan Hickey ’22 who both have three. In what will be the biggest game of the Harvard shot caller’s career, the Elis will want to exploit the potential nerves of Smith and rack up the pickoffs.

Big Dogs Gotta Eat 

The Yale offense has been an unstoppable machine the past couple weeks. The credit for this success should be given in part to the players in the trenches. The offensive linemen for Yale have turned the tide of contests by giving Rawlings insane amounts of time and opening up huge holes for running back Zane Dudek ’21. This unit relies heavily on the senior leadership of offensive linemen Dieter Eiselin ’20 and Sterling Strother ’20, who have been consistent contributors throughout their Bulldog careers.

The Elis lead the Ivy League in time of possession with an average of just 34 minutes per game, which is a direct result of the line pushing forward and helping the team chew up yards. With Harvard’s first-ranked rush defense coming to town on Saturday, these vital members of Team 147 will be called on all the more. 

Turn That Third Quarter Slump into a Harvard Thump

Examining the breakdown of collective points Yale scored in each quarter versus its opponents collective total over the course of nine weeks is intriguing. In the first, second and fourth quarters, the Blue and White have outscored its opponents by 29, 22 and 68 points respectively — what one would expect from the highest scoring team in the league. However, in the third quarter, the Bulldogs have been outscored by their opponents, 55–56.

On Saturday, the Elis cannot fall victim to their third-quarter slump if they hope to close out the season victorious. Proper halftime adjustments from head coach Tony Reno and the rest of the staff will be critical if Team 147 hopes to come out of the locker room with the intense momentum needed to put away a proficient and athletic Harvard squad.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu