Here’s a sentence that seemed impossible after last season: Yale (5–1, 2–1 Ivy) and Columbia (6–0, 3–0) will meet on the gridiron on Saturday, with first place in the Ivy League on the line. After decades spent in the cellar of the Ancient Eight, the Lions have risen to unprecedented heights, while the Bulldogs are enjoying a resurgent season. With the stakes higher than ever before, this weekend’s battle at the Yale Bowl will come down to defending the winning the turnover battle, defending the deep pass and controlling the trenches.
Win the Turnover Battle
In its three Ivy League games this season, Columbia owns a +5 turnover margin, including six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The Lions’ offensive and defensive numbers are not particularly garish for a team in sole possession of first place in the conference standings race. The Light Blue ranks third in scoring offense and fifth in scoring defense in the Ancient Eight, but Columbia’s ability to generate takeaways has been the difference in the team’s victories over Princeton, Penn and Dartmouth by a combined total of 12 points. Linebacker Michael Murphy leads the Ivy League in fumbles recovered while linebacker Justin Woodley and defensive back Benjamin McKeighan are tied for the conference lead in interceptions, so the Elis must be especially careful to avoid the types of turnovers that nearly doomed them in their triumph over Penn.
Keep the Lions Caged Up
Columbia’s top two receiving threats, Ronald Smith II and Josh Wainwright, own the top two yards-per-catch averages for Ivy League players with more than 12 receptions. At 15.5 and 13.8 yards per catch, respectively, Smith and Wainwright will try to pop the lid off the Yale secondary every chance they can. Lions quarterback Anders Hill has had tremendous success airing it out in his six starts, with 20 completions of at least 20 yards. Moreover, lingering injury concerns for captain and cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 will make life more difficult for an improved Yale secondary that ranks third in the Ancient Eight in passing yardage allowed. However, with two senior safeties and game-experienced corners like Malcolm Dixon ’20 and Deonte Henson ’21, the Bulldogs need to avoid giving up the big play throw to defeat the Lions.
Dominate the Line of Scrimmage
While Columbia’s aerial attack has been solid thus far – the Lions rank 16th in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing offense – the Light Blue has struggled to control the line of scrimmage. In Ivy League play, Columbia is averaging just 80.7 rushing yards per game, nearly one-third of Yale’s average of 236.3 yards on the ground per contest. The Elis’ offensive success is largely due to the prowess of breakout star running back Zane Dudek ’21, who was recently named to the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Watch List: which annually honors the top rookie in the FCS.
The Lions rank seventh in the Ivy League in sacks against, which does not bode well for them against Yale, which leads the FCS with 27 sacks though six games. The Light Blue is also the second-worst team in the conference in producing sacks, while Yale’s offensive line has provided quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 with a clean pocket all season, allowing just four sacks in 2017 which ranks sixth nationally among all 123 FCS teams.