We might be fortunate enough to see Maine’s backup QB and we need to find a way to bring pressure on passing downs to disrupt his rhythm. Blitzes must be effective though as leaving our young secondary exposed will get us beat by the Black Bears’ talented wideouts. Utilizing line stunts and finding favorable matchups for Moore, Kissel, Roman, Sampleton, Callender and Nickerson will be crucial this week.
- Attack the Maine defense vertically
The only glaring weakness on the Maine defense is the secondary. Rawlings (or Conte) won’t have much time to throw the ball, but must stay strong in the pocket just long enough to deliver a strike to Shohfi or Klubnik. Maine has slowed every opponent’s rushing attack thus far, so we won’t be able to stay in the game simply handing it off to Alston every play.
- Limit the big plays on defense
Plays that would have gone for twenty yards last year are now long touchdowns this season due to poor tackling, lack of pursuit and atrocious angles. We mentioned last week how Rodney Thomas’ bad angles led to long Cornell scoring plays. The blame can’t be placed on him though as no other defenders were in pursuit and several others had already missed the ball carrier. We have to get better this week at wrapping up and hustling to the ball. It’s going to be a long season with a lot of missed opportunities if we can’t grasp the basics.
Above all, we need to stay healthy, compete and use this game as a chance to improve before the brutal Ivy schedule. Princeton has been dominant, Harvard won’t be a pushover and Dartmouth looks even better than they did a year ago.
The Maine Black Bears travel to the Bowl on Saturday take on the Bulldogs at 1 PM ET. You can watch the game on ESPN+.
Maine (2-1) is currently ranked #16 in the FCS subdivision and will be the most talented foe to date. Maine dominated University of New Hampshire 35-7 in the season opener before traveling to Bowling Green, Kentucky to knock off BCS opponent, Western Kentucky, 31-28. Maine traveled to Mount Pleasant, Michigan last week to square off against another BCS squad, Central Michigan, and lost a close contest 5-17. Maine’s starting quarterback, Chris Ferguson, suffered an upper body injury against Central Michigan and is questionable for Saturday.
Maine features a bruising offensive line with only one starter under 300 lbs. Quarterback Chris Ferguson has completed 35 of 63 attempts for 405 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. If he’s ruled out Saturday, Isaiah Robinson will get the nod. Robinson has struggled in the passing game completing only 50% of his passes with no touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Joe Fitzpatrick and Ramon Jefferson split carriers for the Black Bears. Fitzpatrick is a 230 lb. power runner, whereas Jefferson is more of a classic tailback with speed and moves. Jaquan Blair and Micah Wright are the top receivers and will be tough for our young secondary to contain.
Maine’s defense has been impressive this season led by their NFL-sized linebackers. Senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield (6’2″ 240 lbs.) has racked up 26 tackles, 7.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks, while sophomore linebacker Deshawn Stevens (6’1″ 250 lbs.) has accumulated 25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses and 2 sacks over three contests. As a whole, the Black Bear defense has only allowed 40.7 rushing yards per game and 184 passing yards per game. Keep in mind two of those games were against BCS teams. The defensive line is average sized with starters ranging from 250 lbs. to 280 lbs., but they are fast and eat up blockers allowing the linebackers to roam freely. If there is any area of weakness on this defense, it would have to be the secondary. Western Kentucky was able to throw for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions against the Black Bears.
The Bulldogs emerged victorious on Saturday in a 30-24 contest against the Cornell Big Red. Dudek scored twice on the ground, Alston added another rushing touchdown and Galland notched three field goals.
Lamar, Locke, Rouse and Tribble were all missing from the starting offensive lineup. Dudek was clearly not at one hundred percent forcing freshman Spencer Alston to carry the load. Alston was phenomenal gaining 120 yards on 18 carries. Although Alston’s only listed at 5’10”, 185 lbs., he was a load for Cornell to bring down often breaking multiple tackles. Reno and Lett found another needle in the haystack. Jacob Hinish started at right guard with Tribble out and struggled at times with holding and pass blocking. The pass blocking overall was not up to par and if it weren’t for Rawlings’ great scrambling ability, the Bulldogs would have been in serious trouble. Run blocking was hit or miss with penetration killing many plays. Klubnik and Shohfi had great afternoons amassing 100 yards and 91 yards receiving respectively. Freshman Noah Aaron filled in for Locke and had two nice grabs. Freshman Trenton Charles made his rushing debut, but was stuffed by the Cornell defense on his two attempts.
On defense, Henson and Dixon were injured early on in the contest. Freshmen Kyle Ellis and Dathan Hickey filled in and performed admirably given the circumstances. Yale played with a more traditional four man front that featured Kissel, Crowle, Matthaei, and Moore as starters. Roman, Callender, Sampleton and Reid Nickerson rotated in at defensive end, while Keeler and Julian Fraser rotated in at defensive tackle. Roman was the star of the defense on Saturday with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for losses and 1 pass breakup. Moore had a much better showing this week as he kept containment and shutdown a number of Cornell’s plays. Callender played sparingly indicating that he may not be fully recovered from an injury. Freshman Reid Nickerson was a pleasant surprise as he generated pressure and made a few tackles in limited playing time. His fellow classmate Noah Pope saw action and racked up two solo tackles. The linebackers had issues with tackling in the first half, but played much better in the second half. On Cornell’s two long scoring plays in the first half, Rodney Thomas took horrible angles on the runners and should have been able to track them down with the proper pursuit. Despite missing two starters in the secondary, coverage was much improved from week 1.
Aside from one missed field goal on a long attempt and blown kickoff coverage, the special teams units were solid. Galland will prove to be a difference maker in Ivy contests this season.
- Stay aggressive on offense
Cornell limited a more talented opponent in Delaware to just 14 joints over three quarters. On obvious running plays, the Big Red were able to clog the holes and gang tackle the running backs. Yale will need to open up the playbook this week to keep Cornell guessing. Misdirections, crossing patterns over the middle and deep routes were successful for Delaware. Screens, reverses and quarterback draws should be utilized this week in addition to pounding the rock with our backs. Hopefully Lamar and Dudek aren’t too banged up from last week. The second half of the Holy Cross game was mismanaged by our offensive staff calling the game too conservatively. Playing to not lose the contest will get you beat every time and we must learn from the loss to get back on track this week.
- Master the fundamentals on defense
One of the most frustrating aspects of our defense last week was that our defensive line could not get lined up before the snap of the ball. Playing with only two down linemen is already a head-scratcher, but not being lined up is unacceptable especially when you consider the fact that middle linebackers are tasked with playing a stand-up defensive end position against 300 lb. offensive tackles. Tackling and coverage must improve this week as well. The corners and safeties were often glued to receivers, yet they did not turn to play the ball. Arm tackling and face guarding are recipes for disaster versus the Big Red.
Dudek has to hold onto the ball this week and Rawlings needs to be wary of throwing errant passes in the direction of Cornell’s All-Ivy corners. If our secondary can’t improve, we cannot squander any possession to stay in this game. This is going to be a tight contest decided by a score or a turnover as recent history suggests.
The Bulldogs travel to Ithaca this week to take on the Cornell Big Red at 3 PM ET. You can watch the game on ESPN+ using the free 7 day trial ($5 a month after that).
Cornell faced off against the Delaware Blue Hens last week and lost the contest 27-10. Despite the lopsided final score, the game was actually 14-3 going into the final quarter. Cornell’s defense is not the biggest or fastest we will face this season, but the players are scrappy and do not make many mental mistakes. Delaware missed a number of open receivers on long pass plays that could have buried Cornell earlier in the game. Nine defensive starters return from a year ago including All-Ivy corners David Jones and DJ Woullard. The Cornell secondary struggled to contain Delaware’s top receiver who posted 6 catches for 154 yards on the afternoon. The Big Red were able to slow down Delaware’s rushing attack limiting them to 137 net yards on the day with the longest run being only 13 yards. On Run-Pass Option plays, the Big Red overcommitted to stopping the running backs allowing the quarterback to gain chunks of yardage.
Seven offensive starters return from a year ago including quarterback Dalton Banks. Cornell played three different quarterbacks in their opener and could opt for a similar strategy against the Bulldogs as no quarterback separated himself from the rest of the pack. Banks looks stronger than he did last season and is now listed at 6’3″, 245 lbs. When he runs the ball, he puts his head down and tries to bowl over defenders. Although his arm strength is above average, he struggles with accuracy and decision making. Junior QB Mike Catanese threw for more yards than Banks with less than half the attempts. Big Red running backs Harold Cole and SK Howard are both talented backs that possess speed and power. Cornell’s offensive line has size and can generate an initial push against defensive linemen, but really struggle blocking linebackers and defensive backs. Cornell netted just 91 rushing yards and 141 passing yards against the Blue Hens. The offense is at its best when it attacks the edges with swing passes and jet sweeps. Cornell was able to get JD Pickell and Thomas Glover in space on such plays during the opening drive that yielded a field goal.
The Bulldogs looked like reigning Ivy League Champions after Melvin Rouse used his nifty moves and blazing speed to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The defense stuffed Holy Cross and Alan Lamar took the first handoff of the season for a touchdown. The dominance would only last so long before Holy Cross clawed their way back into the game to upset Yale in overtime.
On the first play of offense, Reno opted to have Dudek and Lamar on the field at the same time with Dudek in the slot and Lamar in the backfield. Warfield started at right tackle and the remainder of the line was identical to the depth chart. The offensive line performance was average. The run blocking was far superior to the pass blocking, but Holy Cross was still able to create penetration that shut down running plays far too often. The line struggled with picking up blitzes leading to hard shots on Rawlings. Rawlings overthrew a few passes and held onto the ball too long under heavy pressure. Dudek and Lamar both played well, although Dudek needs to take better care of the ball. Aside from a back breaking holding penalty, Howland looked solid in his debut. Klubnik had a fantastic afternoon and it was nice to see Locke out there making plays and throwing big blocks. Shohfi was held out of the game with an injury and Rouse was injured early on in the contest.
The reverse pass was a risky move that backfired in a horrible fashion. The play calling in the second half was reminiscent of the Dartmouth contest last season with the Bulldogs just trying not to lose. Holding penalties killed big plays and led to drives stalling out. Reno gambled it all on fourth down in overtime instead of simply kicking the field goal. If we are going to run it on fourth down and one, at least bring in the more powerful running back or better yet, have Rawlings fake the handoff and roll out. With such a young squad, our coaching staff can’t be overly aggressive in critical situations such as these.
Callender was missing from the defensive line on Saturday and the pass rush was simply ineffective without him. Yale chose to have only two linemen in three point stances on most plays with defensive ends or linebackers standing up on the outside. The scheme did not seem to work well with our personnel as our edge rushers lost leverage and speed starting from such a position. Sampleton and Moore struggled with containment at times and the blitzes became too predictable in the second half. The lack of pass rush exposed our young secondary. Dixon got the start at safety along with Rodney Thomas. Alburg and Henson started at corners. Henson went down with an injury forcing Peggs, Abraham and Oldacre to try to pick up the slack. Keeler, Kissel, Hill, Sampleton, Awodiran and Roman rotated in frequently on defense. The tackling was downright atrocious and simple misdirection plays seemed to fool the linebackers. The corners were often in good positions, but would not turn their heads to play the ball. At other times, receivers were simply streaking by defenders (such as Abraham and Awodiran) for touchdowns. It will be a long season if Yale can’t shore up the secondary in a hurry.
The special teams units were sloppy but effective on the afternoon. Delay of game and false start penalties were nuisances, but a great fake from Conte to Howland should have opposing teams thinking twice about how to lineup against our punt and field goal teams. Holy Cross’ onside kick recovery stands out as the only truly terrible special teams play of the day.
- Establish the running game early on in the contest
The two-headed monster of Dudek and Lamar needs to get into a rhythm to force Holy Cross to stack the box. Rotating Dudek and Lamar often will keep the Crusaders off balance trying to adjust to the patience of Dudek or the speed and power of Lamar. Patient runners like Dudek need stellar blocking, so the three new starting offensive linemen need to prove that they can move bodies at the line of scrimmage.
- Limit the mental mistakes on defense
Oluokun, Oplinger, Tyler, Mullen, Carlson, Rymiszewski, Alessi, Herubin, and Chism will not be suiting up for the defense this season. The defensive linemen and linebackers all have some level of experience, but the secondary seems to be an area of concern with two safeties making their first starts and corners that have not proven themselves to be dominant just yet. The Bulldogs will likely give up yards in the passing game to Holy Cross, but will need to clamp down in the redzone and on third downs to win this game. Blown coverages, misaligned fronts, and penalties could be disastrous for our young defense.
- Don’t take Holy Cross lightly
The Crusaders have already played in two games and are looking for revenge after an embarrassing 32-0 loss to the Elis last season. On paper, this should be the easiest non-conference game, but if Yale falls behind by a couple of scores, they may not be well equipped to mount an impressive comeback at this point in the season.
Offensive Line: Sterling Strother (LT), Dieter Eiselen (LG), Steven Cepalia (C), Lucas Tribble (RG), Jack Lee (RT)
This combination of offensive linemen seems to make the most sense for the Bulldogs. The left side of the line is downright scary. Cepalia and Tribble both played well as Sophomores last season and should blossom in starting roles. Lee was penciled in as a starter on last season’s team before an injury derailed those plans. Warfield is very talented and will likely be the first one to step in if any injury occurs. Gargiulo is the only Freshman that cracked the offensive depth chart.
QB: Kurt Rawlings
No surprise here as Rawlings could wind up as Player of the Year if he plays up to expectations. Reno refuses to name a Number 2 opting to list Conte or Check as the backup.
TE: JJ Howland
Howland earning the starting spot at tight end could be the biggest news to emerge from camp. With Yale fans arguing over Lager versus Roman, Howland quietly stole the show. We expect all three tight ends to see significant playing time and depth is no concern at this spot.
WR: JP Shohfi, Jamal Locke, Reed Klubnik
The Rawlings to Shohfi connection should be huge this season. Klubnik had a stellar Freshman season due to injuries at the position, but was buried in the depth chart last season with so many talented Seniors healthy. Locke has seen extended action since his Freshman season, led the team in all-purpose yards as a Sophomore, and then was used sparingly in his Junior season. Look for Klubnik and Locke to bounce back and vie for Ivy League honors at the end of the season.
RB: Zane Dudek or Alan Lamar
How can you possibly name one a starter over the other? Both could start anywhere in the league this season. It will be interesting to see who trots out with the offense on the first play against Holy Cross.