The Yale football team is set to travel up north to the Granite State this weekend to take on Dartmouth in a battle of defending Ivy League co-champions. 

It took three games, but the Elis (2–1, 1–0 Ivy) were at last able to put together an offensive masterclass this past weekend against Lehigh. While the defense of the Blue and White has shown a consistent high level of play all season, the offense had been putting up an average of 20 points per game through the season’s first two games — good for sixth in the Ancient Eight. This weekend’s contest against Lehigh was the first in which Team 148’s offense fired on all cylinders. Yale’s quarterbacking unit of Griffin O’Connor ’23 and Nolan Grooms ’24 combined for three touchdowns and 245 yards spread out among seven different receivers. Running back Zane Dudek ’22 and his 56 yards rushing led the way for a ground game that finished with 175 yards. His 56 yards also propelled the Pennsylvania native past Eli great Dick Jauron ’73 for the highest career yards-per-rush average in Yale history.

“We’ve improved from week one to week three, and we’ve taken steps forward,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We talk a lot about just getting better today than we were yesterday, and that’s the primary goal. … I think we did some really nice things on both sides of the ball last week, but we haven’t even come close to what I feel is the standard that we need to play at.”

The Bulldog defense has helped anchor the team all year and was a force to be reckoned with this past weekend, holding the Mountain Hawks to a paltry 146 yards of total offense and 11 completions. The linebacking unit finished the afternoon with 13 tackles for loss to go along with eight sacks, the latter of which tied a high mark under Reno and secured the Elis’ first shutout victory in nearly four years

This defensive charge was led by lineman Clay Patterson ’24. The Texas native brought in a game-high nine solo tackles and four sacks, for which he was recognized by the Ivy League with Defensive Player of the Week honors.

As Team 148 heads up the road to Hanover to take on the Big Green (3–0, 1–0 Ivy), the Blue and White will need to keep this offensive and defensive momentum going in what will be a pivotal battle for the Ancient Eight crown. Dartmouth currently enjoys the third ranked scoring offense and second ranked scoring defense in the Ivy League. The Big Green concede an average of just over nine points per game and have put up at least 28 points in every game so far this season.

“I think Dartmouth is very efficient at what they do,” Reno said. “The offense runs a very efficient short game through [quarterback Derek Kyler], who is capable of making plays off play-action and taking shots as they come to him. I think they’re very calculated at how they do things, and I think he’s very efficient in what he does. He’s a good quarterback, the best we’ve seen so far this year.” 

Given that Dartmouth lost 18 of 22 starters from its championship roster two years ago, there were obvious questions regarding team chemistry coming into the season. In their most recent matchup against Penn last weekend, the Big Green silenced those that doubted their team synergy. Quarterback Derek Kyler threw for an extremely efficient 160 yards, completing 68 percent of his pass attempts. With Kyler at the helm this year, the Big Green have the highest offensive efficiency in the Ancient Eight by a wide margin. Dartmouth’s ground game was equally as impressive, with running back Zack Bair tallying 91 yards on just 13 rushes.

Defending against the run has been a huge point of emphasis for Yale’s defense in preparation for Saturday’s tilt.

“At the defensive level it’s going to come down to stopping the run,” Patterson said. “Then when it gets to a pass situation, our goal at the defensive line is just going to be containing [Kyler], keeping him in the pocket and putting pressure on him to make a throw. We’ve got some good defensive backs, like Rodney Thomas II ’21, who can make some plays on the ball, so as long as we get in [Kyler’s] face and force him to make some bad decisions to throw the ball I feel like we can get him rattled early. With [John] Dean ’21 coming off the end, he has a bunch of [quarterback] hits this year so if we can get some of those early we can get him off his game.”

The Big Green’s defense has only gotten stronger throughout the season. Against the Quakers in particular, Dartmouth held their offense to just 141 yards and six completed passes, recording two sacks and two interceptions en route to a dominating 31–7 victory. 

The Bulldog defense, which has statistically been weaker than the Big Green’s from a pure statistics perspective, has nevertheless risen to the occasion to begin this 2021 campaign. In the week prior to shutting out Lehigh, Team 148’s defense put together a dominating show for fans in attendance at the Bowl, intercepting three of Cornell’s passes in a 23–17 victory. On the year, the Blue and White have the third ranked total defense and the highest defensive efficiency in the Ivy League.  

When it comes to offense, Yale has statistically been middle of the pack in the Ancient Eight. The Bulldogs rank fourth in total offense and are fifth in scoring. However, the passing game has begun to find its stride — O’Connor is third among Ancient Eight signal callers in passing yards and has led his offense to have the second highest efficiency for three weeks. 

“We’ve placed a major emphasis on physicality in practice,” wideout Melvin Rouse ’22 said. “As a team, we’ve focused on just doing the basics right. We just want to make sure our basics and our fundamentals don’t digress throughout the week. … Perimeter blocking has been a huge point of emphasis this week. I think our blocking has gotten a lot better all around, and that translates into more red zone scores, driving the ball better and just an overall better offensive flow.”

Yale and Dartmouth will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9 in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Jared Fel currently serves as a sports staff reporter covering football, baseball, and hockey for the Yale Daily News. Originally from Ossining, New York, he is a rising junior in Saybrook College majoring in Cognitive Science.