The Bulldogs completed their non-conference slate with a 35-28 win over visiting Mercer. Yale now sits at 3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Ivy League and 2-1 in non-conference games.
The passing game was the highlight of the day offensively. Rawlings threw for a whopping 344 yards with 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Shohfi and Klubnik were unstoppable hauling in two touchdowns and one touchdown respectively. Freshman Jaylan Sandifer made a fantastic catch on a 38 yard bomb from Rawlings to score his first touchdown of his career. Howland, Locke and Lamar all had crucial catches as well. Mercer clearly studied film on the quick passing play to Charles out of the backfield as they were able to shut that down on most attempts. Our pass blocking held up most of the time and when it didn’t, Rawlings could usually scramble free. Run blocking was not up to par forcing Lamar and Alston to have to fend off defenders much earlier than anticipated. The guards in particular were struggling when they were tasked with pulling on running plays. Lamar was able to spring free on a few occasions and wound up rushing for a respectable 116 yards. Reno inserted Jimmy Check as the quarterback for two series and he looked promising as he completed three passes for 35 yards. There was no sign of Dudek this week. Hinish continues to play at right guard as well.
Besides a long run from Mercer’s Tee Mitchell, the Bulldogs were able to slow down the ground game this week. A number of youngsters played on the defensive side with Oldacre, Abraham, Ellis, Hickey and Pope seeing extended action. Pope was the best of the bunch with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for losses, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. The fumble that Pope caused and was recovered for a Yale touchdown could have been the difference in the contest. We had no answers in the secondary. Bulldog defensive backs were holding, interfering and not turning their heads to play the ball. Fortunately, most of the pass interference penalties were missed by the officials. John Dean was not seen in action this week.
Galland missed his sole field goal attempt and Locke bobbled a kick return that pinned Yale deep in its own territory.
Dartmouth gashed our defense last week on the ground and Mercer will be looking to establish the run early on in the contest to open up their offense. The success of stopping the run boils down to generating pressure up front, getting off of blocks and making tackles. Linebackers and defensive backs in particular must shed offensive linemen this week. Defensive ends and outside linebackers need to set the edge to funnel runners inside. Mercer has two great running backs with complementary styles, so missed tackles will be crippling. This isn’t simply a key to victory this week, but an area of defense that has to improve to stay in the hunt for an Ivy League title.
- As Belichick likes to say, “Do your job.”
We don’t need Superman on the field on Saturday, just a group of gritty players looking to compete and perform their duties. Yale is a better team than our .500 record shows. We saw flashes of brilliance against Holy Cross, Cornell and Maine when are players were playing as a collective unit. Let’s keep it simple this week and just execute. This is a great opportunity to improve in all facets of the game to prepare us for the difficult slate ahead.
- Limit the mental mistakes on offense
Holding penalties, dropped balls, passes into double coverage, fumbles, missed blocks and illegal touching last week were mainly the result of mental errors. It’s not as though our offense was overmatched, we consistently shot ourselves in the foot. We moved the ball and controlled the clock, but we couldn’t score when it mattered and on two occasions when we did score, penalties erased the touchdowns. Our defense likely isn’t going to shutout good opposing offenses, so we need our high-powered offense to score early and often. Limiting mental errors is the single biggest factor in finishing the season at 8-2. The best defense is a good offense.
The Mercer Bears will travel from Macon, Georgia to the Yale Bowl this week to take on the Bulldogs at 1 PM ET on Saturday. The game will be featured on ESPN+.
Mercer is a fast and talented squad that is 3-1 against FCS teams this season. This is the first time that Mercer has had to fly on a chartered plane to a game, so we will see how they are able to adjust under the new circumstances. Keep in mind Mercer is coming off of a bye week and has had two weeks to study film on the Bulldogs.
Mercer’s starting QB, Robert Riddle, was injured a few weeks ago and we expect to face Kaelan Riley. Riley has been solid in relief of Riddle completing 26 of 42 passes for 304 yards, 3 touchdowns and just one interception. Mercer’s top receiver, Marquise Irvin, is a big target (6’3″, 216 lbs.) with sticky hands. Irvin is averaging over 16 yards per catch. Irvin’s fellow wideout, Stephen Houzah, is a big-play threat who has hauled in receptions of 73 yards and 55 yards. Tee Mitchell and Tyray Devezin are likely the best running backs we have faced this season to date. Mitchell is averaging 5 yards per carry while Devezin is averaging a whopping 7.2 yards per carry. Devezin is a physical specimen at 5’8″, 233 lbs. with legs like tree trunks. Mercer’s offensive line averages 293 lbs. and judging from their press conference, they will be looking to establish the ground game early on in this contest.
Redshirt Junior linebacker Will Coneway leads the Bears defense with 43 tackles, 2 tackles for losses, and one sack. The Bears are very deep at linebacker with 7 different members of the corps that have ten tackles or more. Malique Fleming is a sizable free safety at 208 lbs. who has been playing very well this season after being nominated to the All-Freshman team in the Southern Conference a year ago. Redshirt Senior Isaiah Buehler is the most experience defensive lineman as a four year starter and captain of the team. The Bears have not been particularly great at rushing the quarterback, however, as they have posted just 4 sacks and 7 hits on quarterbacks.
The Bulldogs are currently sitting at 2-2 (1-1 Ivy) after a painful 41-18 loss to the Dartmouth Big Green on Friday. Yale had chances to hang around, but penalties, missed tackles and mental errors were too much to overcome against a talented squad.
Yale’s opening drive began with a nice pass from Rawlings to Klubnik, but the drive would eventually stall. Lamar and Dudek were back in action, although Dudek did not look to be 100%. He just did not have the same burst and cutback ability that we have come to know and love from him. Lamar had a few nice runs and ended up averaging 5.7 yards per carry. It’s a shame Yale was playing behind most of the day and couldn’t lean on Lamar to drive the field and burn the clock. Klubnik had a heck of an outing with 13 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Shohfi had a modest game with 6 catches for 57 yards, but also had a crucial drop and stepped out of bounds on a touchdown. D. Major Roman had a fantastic catch to keep a drive alive. Trenton Charles was lethal catching passes out of the backfield and could have had a touchdown if it was not for a missed pass interference penalty. Dartmouth’s Isiah Swann got away with another two pass interference penalties as he was clearly pulling on our receivers’ arms before the ball arrived. Despite missing the majority of Dartmouth’s penalties, the officials flagged Yale 8 times for 56 yards erasing two touchdown plays. The offensive line only allowed 3 sacks, but that figure is low because Rawlings was scrambling for his life. Aside from two bad throws into coverage, Rawlings had a solid game. The offensive line was the weakest position offensively with costly penalties on Strother and Warfield as well as several missed blocks by each member of the line on passing and running plays.
The defense had no answers for Dartmouth’s offense. Dartmouth decided to lean heavily on their Wildcat QB, Jared Gerbino, who absolutely torched the Bulldogs for 169 yards. Dartmouth would finish the day with 347 yards rushing and had no reason to even throw the ball as we couldn’t contain their ground assault. Dixon and Henson were back in action, but even with our full starting secondary in the lineup, we couldn’t slow the Big Green. The linebackers and defensive backs really struggled to get off blocks and make tackles. Defensive ends such as Moore kept pinching inside on Gerbino runs effectively destroying any containment. Dean and the safeties were beat on a touchdown from Hagdorn. We also did not learn how to cover the deep running back route that Maine used as Dartmouth nearly scored on that same play as well.
We’re on to Mercer!
Sophomore Derek Kyler hasn’t taken any huge hits or been flustered yet this season, but Dartmouth hasn’t played a team like Yale. Kyler locks onto one target and 99% of the time, he throws to that receiver without even taking a peak at his other reads. The Dartmouth coaching staff keeps the playbook very simple for him with the majority of the passes being short, outside routes or screens. Kyler will occasionally throw deep passes to Hagdorn or Hunnicutt, yet intermediate routes are non-existent. Dartmouth is trying to conceal the fact that he can’t make complex reads under pressure. If guys like Roman and Matthaie can generate pressure without blitzing and get hits on Kyler, his confidence will be rattled. His frail frame cannot withstand an onslaught from our defenders.
- Block Linebacker Jack Traynor
Dartmouth’s defensive line is stocked with big bodies that clog running lanes. These linemen are not necessarily fast or great at disengaging from blockers. Jackson Perry in particular has really struggled with cut blocks this season. Dartmouth relies heavily on Traynor and other linebackers to make plays all over the field. If the Bulldogs can assign a blocker to Traynor on every play and get our playmakers in space, Dartmouth will be in trouble. Dartmouth’s secondary simply does not have the talent to stop players such as Shohfi once they get loose.
- Push around the Dartmouth offensive line
Dartmouth’s offensive line has been one of its strengths thus far. They are great at pass blocking, but only above average at run blocking. There were several plays in Dartmouth’s contest against Holy Cross where Dartmouth’s vaunted offensive line was manhandled on running downs. We believe from firsthand experience that Coach Keith Clark is not an elite offensive line coach. If the Bulldogs start pushing the Dartmouth line around, Clark and company will panic. A close contest favors the Bulldogs as Dartmouth’s kicking game is lackluster.
The Bulldogs square off against the Dartmouth Big Green this Friday at 6 PM ET at the Bowl. You can watch the game on ESPNU. The weather shouldn’t be a factor with a 64 degree temperature at kickoff, but the playing surface could be slick with all the rain Connecticut has had this week.
Sophomore Quarterback Derek Kyler leads the Big Green’s offense and has been highly efficient this season completing 58 of 77 attempts for 7 touchdowns and only one interception. Dartmouth’s offensive line is the most talented to date featuring 6’7″, 325 lb. left tackle Matt Kaskey. Kyler doesn’t have the frame to sustain a continued beating and telegraphs where he is throwing the ball, but his offensive line has kept defenders at bay and his receivers have torched opposing secondaries. Hunnicutt, Hagdorn and Estrada are dangerous receiving threats that will challenge our secondary. Tight End Connor Rempel has been productive this season catching 11 passes for two touchdowns. Roughly 64% of the play calls have been runs, although this figure could be deceiving considering Dartmouth has held large leads in each contest and was trying to burn time off the clock. Miles Smith, Rashaad Cooper and Caylin Parker form the running back rotation and Cooper has had the most success this season averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Look for Dartmouth to utilize wildcat QB and utility player Jared Gerbino in various roles on Friday.
The heart and soul of this season’s Dartmouth squad is their defense. The Big Green’s defense has All-Ivy talent at all three levels. Defensive tackle Jackson Perry is the most talented linemen of the bunch racking up two sacks and three tackles for losses in just three contests. Overall, the defensive line looks to be on par with Maine’s unit if not slightly better. Linebacker Jack Traynor is a machine who had ten tackles a year ago versus the Bulldogs. In the secondary, Isiah Swann has been phenomenal as he leads the Ivy League with four interceptions. Errant passes this week could spell doom for the Elis.
On special teams, Connor Davis is an average kicker with 5 field goals out of 9 attempts and 13 of 14 extra points. Punter Davis Brief has struggled averaging 31.7 yards per punt. The kick return and punt return teams are excellent accounting for 33 yards per kick return and just under 14 yards per punt return.
The Bulldogs came out fired up for their home opener on Saturday with Kurt Rawlings leading Yale on a gutsy scoring drive on the first possession. Long passes to Shohfi and Howland set Yale up in good position before Rawlings finished it off with a one yard scamper into the end zone. Rawlings sported an elbow brace on his left elbow (in addition to his usual knee brace) and the nagging injury appeared to cause him some pain on that initial drive.
Shofi and Klubnik were no match for the Black Bears’ secondary. Shohfi finished with ten catches for 124 yards, while Klubnik added six catches for 85 yards and three touchdowns. Garrett White and CJ McCord saw extended action at the third wide receiver position. At the tight end spot, Howland had three catches for 69 yards and Roman made his first career catch for 23 yards on a crucial drive.
Aside from Charles’ touchdown run, the offensive line struggled with run blocking. Alston was only able to average 2.4 yards per carry with his longest run being just 11 yards. Dudek and Lamar did not suit up. High snaps plagued the Bulldogs in the first half, but Cepalia was able to clean it up for the second half. Pass blocking was hit or miss, yet for the most part, Rawlings had a couple of seconds on each play to get rid of the ball. Rawlings has great awareness of where pressure is coming from and can often escape from the first pass rusher. The player of the game was easily Rawlings who threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense had their best outing of the year on Saturday. Two big scoring plays from the Black Bears kept the contest close in the second half. Tackling and pursuit were much improved from a week ago, although poor tackling did lead to one of the long scoring plays. On the other Maine touchdown, the running back ran by Awodiran for a long reception as Awodiran was caught peeking back to the quarterback. Rodney Thomas had his best career game with five solo tackles and two passes defended that were nearly interceptions. Dathan Hickey made solid improvements from a week ago. Dixon and Henson were not seen in the secondary. Hunter Roman was stellar once again and Matthaie, Keeler and Moore performed well along the defensive line.
Galland was 5/5 on extra points and averaged 40.4 yards per punt. He also handled much of the kickoff duty and we’re unsure if Blake Horn was hurt or if Reno simply wanted to squib it to throw off the Maine kick return team. The Yale Bowl’s grass was in poor shape and several young players without much experience playing on the surface were slipping.
Yale faces off against the Dartmouth Big Green at 6 PM ET on Friday at the Bowl.