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Lehigh At Yale Game Breakdown And Fearless Prediction: Beware The Yale Bowl

We break down the Yale game - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

Before we get to all the nuts and bolts of the breakdown, Yale's game notes and mascots, though, it's worth highlighting a great piece by Lehigh athletics on senior OL Brandon Short that was just released earlier today by Lehighsports.com.

"Regardless, Short's approach to every practice, every game and every opportunity to improve is the same, whether this is his last season or he returns in 2017," the article reads.  "That extra sense of urgency, which seniors often say they feel, has been there for Short ever since returning from a season-ending injury he sustained early in the 2014 season [at Yale].

"'That experience really brought things into perspective,' he said. "We always hear coaches say play every play like it's your last. I started three games as a sophomore, which got taken away in the matter of two plays. It really opened my eyes to enjoy and appreciate what I'm doing.

"Because of that injury and missing the rest of the season, Short hopes to return to Lehigh for a fifth year to earn his master's degree while continuing to play football. Several logistics still need to be figured out, but that's his goal."


Thanks to the Yale Daily News for making my preview much better today.  If you want to see Yale's keys to victory from that student paper, you can find it here.

Breaking Down Yale
Offense

I'll admit it - in the preseason, I had Yale as one of the contenders for the Ivy League title, picking them third behind Penn and Harvard.

"The Bulldogs going into 2016 are like a cake without leavening," I wrote.  "If they find the yeast or baking powder that they need – in the form of a new QB and a few other position players – they could find themselves challenging for some Ivy League title cake."

Now that the Bulldogs have suffered an 0-2 start, it's very clear that they've been missing those things in their pantry thus far especially on offense.  Amazingly, it's the first time in 20 years since the Elis have started a football season 0-2.

QB Tre Moore (Robbie Short/Yale Daily News)
"In their first two games, the Elis have featured three quarterbacks — most recently, sophomore QB Tre Moore was named the starter for the rest of the season earlier this week," the Yale Daily News reported.

Moore was installed as the starter in the second half of the Cornell game, when the original starter in the game, junior QB Rafe Chapple, was benched after a dismal 3-for-10 passing performance in the first half of that game, falling behind 24-3.

Something that ought not to get obscured by Yale's 0-2 start is Moore's solid performance against the team I had picked to finish 8th out of 8 teams in the Ivy League, Cornell.  Though it comes with the caveat that it came only in a half of play, Moore went 21 of 33 passing with 174 yards and 1 interception.

“When you look at what Tre can do, he’s obviously a dual-threat guy with his ability to hurt you with his feet,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said about his starting quarterback. “He [also] gets the ball out fast on the perimeter. We talk about a lot that when our offense is moving well. It’s a distributor back there, a point guard [at quarterback]. He did a great job of that in the second half on Saturday.”

If the mobile, 6'3, 190 lb signalcaller from St. Louis is the answer at quarterback for Yale, it might go a great way towards erasing the mighty offensive struggles they have had in their first two games.  Through only two games, Yale has had downright dysfunction on offense, with a grand total of eight turnovers in two games, including 7 (!) interceptions, while only scoring a grand total of 13 points in two games - only two touchdowns, one passing, one rushing.

One of the challenges of scouting Yale this week is, ironically, that Yale has been so ineffective on offense and has fallen behind so early in games.  That obscures the fact that in the past, Yale has had a very effective running game, and in the past, Yale has had three different starters at running back.

RB Deshawn Salter
Junior RB DeShawn Salter (10 carries, 37 yards) should be a very familiar name to Lehigh football fans.  He ran roughshod over Lehigh last year in a 27-12 win at Murray Goodman Stadium, in his first-ever start gaining 233 yards and 2 touchdowns and more or less breaking the Mountain Hawks' spirit in that game.

Senior RB Candler Rich is the back I've always felt is the best of the three, but he's been extremely limited this season, as he was last year, coming back from yet another injury.  Rounding out the committee is the leading rusher at present for the Bulldogs, speedy senior RB Dale Harris, but at 82 yards in 2 games, it's fair to say that game narrative has kept any one back from breaking out this year.

Since Yale has been playing from behind, it's no surprise that the most productive group on the Yale offense is the receiving corps.  The most productive of the receivers has been possession receiver senior WR Robert Clemons III (12 catches, 66 yards), but established junior WR Michael Siragusa Jr. (7 catches, 76 yards) and a newcomer, sophomore WR Chris Williams-Lopez (9 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD), have also emerged.  Worryingly, Moore and Williams-Lopez had a fairly good rapport during that second half against Cornell.

Yale isn't restricted to those three guys catching the ball.  When the Yale offense is clicking - the running game being established - Yale will spread the ball around.  Even in the loss, and all the issues on offense twelve different Bulldogs have caught passes.  Senior WR Myles Gainessenior TE Sebastian Little and the  younger brother of the former prolific Lehigh wide receiver, sophomore WR Ross Drwal, are but three of the players who have done so.

Much of Yale's struggles have come from an offensive line that has struggled mightily to protect whomever has suited up at quarterback, yielding 7 sacks already to go with a subpar running game.  The most experienced member of the line is 6'6, 305 lb senior OL Khalid Cannon, who has started in 22 consecutive games.

Defense

Yale lines up in a base 4-2-5 defense that isn't fancy, and is better than they've shown thus far this season.  If Yale is allowed to get things going on offense, their defense will almost certainly rise to the occasion, even though they yielded an eye-popping 55 points to Colgate in the season opener.

“[We] need to affect the quarterback and get him off the midline,” Reno said. “The second thing is [we] have to be really good in coverage. We’ve got to do a really good job in our zones, eliminate big plays and tackle well. They throw it a lot to the perimeter and we have to tackle well in those areas. They’ve done a really good job in the last two weeks getting yards after the catch. Those five-yard throws turn into 25-yard gains.”

Matthew Oplinger, Jason Alessi. (photo by Jack Warhola c/o Yale Athletics)
Senior DE Marty Moesta co-leads the team with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, and he's the leader on a front six that has been effective in putting pressure on opposing QBs.  Sophomore DE Kyle Mullen, also with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, forms a concerning source of pressure from the other side as well.  Junior DT John Herubin and junior NG Nick Crowle round out this speedy, and decent-sized unit.

Like Lehigh, they have the equivalent of a "rover" linebacker that can double up as a safety in certain situations.  Junior LB Matthew Oplinger plays this role at Yale, while two very talented tackling machines, senior LB Foye Oluokun, a converted safety, manning the outside and senior LB Victor Egu, manning the middle.  Like Lehigh, Yale boasts a small, speedy corps of linebackers.

Yale's young secondary has been a position set that has been exploited by their opponents - in two games, two teams not known for their passing prowess, Cornell and Colgate, have averaged 310 yards apiece against Yale.  Junior SS Hayden Carlson is the teams leading tackler with 22, with junior FS Jason Allesi right behind him.

Special Teams

Senior P Bryan Holmes has moved from P/K to a punting specialist for the most part, but his 33/9 average leaves something to be desired.  Sophmore PK Alex Galland now handles the kicking duties, where he's been a perfect 4/4 on FGs with a long of 38.

Freshman RB Alan Lamar has gotten the most yardage on kickoff returns this season with 105, while junior FS Jason Allesi and senior RB Candler Rich join him in returning kicks.  None of the trio have returned a kick for huge gains yet this year.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Line Play.  When you read historic accounts of Yale vs. Lehigh games, every single one of them talks about one aspect: line play and how Yale's offensive and defensive lines "wore out" the opponent.  In the simplest of terms, Lehigh will have to win the trench battles on both sides of the ball.  If they win that, they will win the game, it's that simple.
2. Knott's Berry Farm.  It's easy to focus on senior QB Nick Shafnisky, junior WR Troy Pelletier, or even junior WR Gatlin Casey in terms of the passing game.  But I think they guy who might be eating blueberry jelly on toast on Saturday could be senior WR Derek Knott out of the slot.  If Yale's 4-2-5 focuses too much on the deep ball, I think Knott has an opportunity to really eat.
3. Forcing Fumbles.  One way to keep Yale's offense off balance and continuing to struggle might be with aggressive plays in forcing turnovers, especially something this team almost did but didn't do last weekend, force fumbles.  Being +3 in turnover ratio last week was enormous in Lehigh's big win, but getting a win with a forced fumble could bring even more confidence going into league play.

Fearless Prediction

Going through the archives of Yale and Lehigh at the Yale Bowl, I was consistently struck by how close all the games were, and how the Bulldogs had a physical advantage over the Mountain Hawks, consistently.  A great 1994 team, who won the Patriot League, had to come from behind and barely held on against Yale.  This game have never been a mismatch in favor of Lehigh, further corroborated by the fact that the Mountain Hawks have only won there twice ever.

Yet few things were as shocking to me during this young season as Yale's two losses to start the year.  Losing to Colgate was certainly in play, but the ease in which the Bulldogs were carved up by Colgate was a shock.  Losing to Cornell, unanimously picked to finish 8th in the Ivy League, was unthinkable to me going into the season.

Which is why I think that the Bulldogs are not going to roll over easily to Lehigh this Saturday.  It could be that their issues on offense and establishing the run are deeply in the weeds.  But I haven't forgotten Deshawn Salter's finest day as a collegian last season - I have to believe that, at home, Yale will put up the fight of a lifetime to get their season back on track.

I wouldn't look at the records, and I hope Lehigh isn't either.

Lehigh 34, Yale 27

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