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Yale at Lehigh Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Ridiculous, Sublime, Awesome, Or Awful?

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

This week, College Sports Journal picked their order of finish of the Ivy League and the Elis were picked to finish 5th, in contrast to the preseason Ivy League media poll, where they were picked fourth.

"Exhale, Elis, you did it," it said.  "For only the second time in a decade, Yale finally beat their most bitter Rival in The Game, 21-14, giving head coach Tony Reno something pleasant to bring into the offseason for a change.  That win, however, somewhat masks a maddeningly inconsistent 2016, where Yale went 3-7, gave up more than 40 points on defense four times, and somehow managed to lose to Cornell 27-13 at Schoellkopf Field.  The win in The Game will provide hope in New Haven and a good feeling in the offseason, but will it translate into a winning season and an Ivy League title run?"


Thanks to the Yale Daily News for making my preview much better today.  When Lehigh plays Yale, I enjoy reading their well-done preview articles, and they truly give a good feel for their upcoming season.  Their season preview is here.

Also, as always, a big thanks to Yale for getting out timely game notes.

Breaking Down Yale
Offense

The Bulldog team Lehigh faced last season in the Yale Bowl was a team in disarray - a very different team than the one they will play this Saturday.

Last October, Yale was still fumbling around trying to find out who to start at quarterback, and they also were suffering a series of injuries in the secondary - something that junior QB Brad Mayes and Lehigh's talented receiving corps were able to exploit.

Many of the Bulldogs that will take the field for Yale this weekend took their lumps last season - they started a bunch of underclassmen - but things started to really turn around for them last year, especially at the end of the year.

“Wins help build, losses help reflect,” head coach told The Yale Daily News. “Guys were able to build on the fact that they had success in the last game, and that carried us in the offseason. What it did for Team 145 is it made them hungry.”

One of the keys to that turnaround was the emergence of a player that took a hold of the starting job, and kept it.

QB Kurt Rawlings (Matthew Stock/YDN)
Sophomore QB Kurt Rawlings was third on the depth chart going into last season behind dual-threat junior QB Tre Moore, who started against Lehigh last year, and senior QB Rafe Chapple, who tore his rotator cuff to set up Rawlings' opportunity to start.

All Rawlings did was help guide Yale football to two of their three wins last year - a 31-23 win over Columbia, and Yale's second victory in ten tries over their hated Rival in Cambridge, 21-14.

Rawlings guided Yale to the epic win by being an effective game manager.  Even though he's valued for being a great "point guard" on offense and keeping mistakes to a minimum, against Harvard he was an efficient 17-for-28 passing with 2 touchdowns and using his legs as well, rushing 10 times for 74 yards.  There was little doubt he would be the starter for the 2017 season after winning their final game.

Going into the season, sophomore RB Alan Lamar was expected to be the starter, but a non-contact injury means he won't be suiting up against the Mountain Hawks.  Instead, the starter will be a player that has made a collegiate career racking up yards against Lehigh.

RB Deshawn Salter
For whatever reason, senior RB DeShawn Salter has absolutely shredded Lehigh running the football.  The first time he faced off against the Mountain Hawks, he stepped in for injured RB Candler Rich and had the game of his career - 233 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a backbreaking 40 yard touchdown run in the second half.

It's fair to say that Salter is probably the very last back Lehigh would like to see back there this weekend - of his 919 career rushing yards, 384 of them - 40% of his total - came against the Brown and White.  Even in last year's game in the Yale Bowl the speedy yet tough  back racked up 152 yards on the ground.

Traditionally Yale has had a balanced single-back attack with 3 wideouts - they don't have a fullback on the roster.  The successful recipe for them last season was to jump out to a quick lead and win the battle of time-of-possession.  You can bet this will be Reno's strategy.

WR Reed Klubnik
The receiver that had developed the best rapport with Rawlings last year was sophomore WR Reed Klubnik, who caught 22 of his passes to end the year, including 2 touchdowns in The Game.  But Yale has no end of receiving targets - they return a bunch of receivers with offensive experience, including senior WR Michael Siragusa, senior WR Christopher Williams-Lopez (who had a 63 yard touchdown grab against Lehigh last year), and sophomore WR J.P. Shohfi, another favorite Rawlings target.  Senior WR Ross Drwal is the younger brother of a former Lehigh player, LFN fave WR Jake Drwal.

Drwal, Siragusa and Williams-Lopez all suffered injuries that kept them out of the second half of the season, but all three did well against Lehigh before.

Yale's offensive line last season had some troubles protecting the quarterback and was a work in progress when Lehigh came to town, and they come into the season with the line still a bit of a work in progress.  Lehigh will line up against an O line that features only one player who played against them last year, 6'5, 295 lb senior OL Karl Marback, who, according to Yale's game notes, is "a biomedical engineering major and the team’s rocket scientist, has been sending devices into space as part of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA). He helped build a rocket (sophomore year) that climbed to 10,000 feet and collected microbes from the air to learn more about what is living in the atmosphere."

Defense

Prior to last season, Yale lined up in a base 4-2-5 defense that wasn't particularly fancy.  On Saturday, they are switching to a more familiar base 4-3 defense with the conventional two safeties instead of three.

Matthew Oplinger, Jason Alessi. (photo by Jack Warhola c/o Yale Athletics)
Much of the same cast of characters Lehigh saw last year on the D line return, effective junior DE Kyle Mullen, senior DT John Herubin and senior NG Nick Crowle.  Adding to the depth and talent in the D line rotation is 6'2, 300 lb senior DT Copache Taylor, a tremendous run-stuffer who sat out last season (ed. note: would he please graduate, already?), and speedy pass-rushing senior DE Earl Chism.

It remains to me seen how  senior LB Matthew Oplinger, who played the "rover" role for the Elis, will adjust to playing the outside linebacking role alongside senior LB Foye Oluokun, a converted safety, and sophomore LB Ryan Burke, who had 11 tackles against Colgate last year as a freshman.

Yale truly got victimized last year in the secondary because their starting unit got drilled with injuries, something that won't be the case this time around  Senior FS Hayden Carlson and senior SS Jason Allesi worked the middle against the Mountain Hawks last year, and they're joined by their regular starter, senior CB Spencer Rymiszweski, and junior CB Marquise Peggs, who was limited by injury last year.

Special Teams

Junior P/K Alex Galland now handles both the punting and kicking duties, where he's had a career-long 38 yard FG and a career-long 51 yard punt.

Senior SS Jason Allesi is listed as the main punt returner, while a pair of freshmen, freshman WR Melvin Rouse and freshman RB Zane Dudek are listed as the main kickoff return team.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Gaps.  Even though Yale's offensive line is a work in progress, that doesn't mean they're not a physical, tough bunch.  They will create gaps for Salter to work and will protect Rawlings long enough to dissect Lehigh's secondary.  It's up to the Lehigh defense to hit those gaps and limit the Yale offense.  (Personally, my challenge for the defense is to have them hold Salter to 80 yards or less.  If they do that, I think Lehigh wins the game.)
2. Outscoring Yale on Special Teams.  Senior WR Gatlin Casey and senior CB Quentin Jones are huge weapons returning kicks and punts respectively.  They have the speed and big-play ability to really make the Bulldogs pay on special teams, and if they can run one back for a score, I love Lehigh's chances.
3. 2016 is in the past.  It's oh-so-tempting to look at Lehigh's huge win last season against Yale and to extrapolate that the Mountain Hawk offense will certainly replicate that feat, but that would be a huge mistake.  The Bulldogs that Lehigh faced last year were a very different, injured, uncertain team.  This year, Yale's secondary is as healthy as healthy can be, they have found their answer at quarterback, and they're through the moon after finishing with a win over Harvard.  If there was ever a time to enter a game with a clean slate, it's Lehigh on offense this week.

Fearless Prediction

I've lived through a lot of these Lehigh/Yale games, the ridiculous, the awesome, the sublime and the awful.  It seems like this series always ends up with a game at the extremes - either no scoring, or more scoring than you know what to do with.  In the last decade, the final winning margin has been double digits five out of six times - and the sixth game, a 7-0 defeat, was won by, of all things, a fake punt that resulted in a Yale touchdown.

If the game is destined for extremes, it's obvious that Lehigh Nation will be rooting for a back-and-forth track meet with lots of points (mostly Lehigh points) and the referees raising both hands in the air, while Yale Nation's desires will be for a game where the Bulldogs jump to a two-score lead, and let the air out of the ball until the clock reads 0.0.

It feels too easy, though, to predict a track meet.  Is that necessarily the case?  The 63 Lehigh rang up on Yale last year cannot be an expectation, and this Lehigh team enters this game in a much different place than they did last season.  Last year, the Mountain Hawks were firing on all cylinders and strutting into the Yale Bowl like Lavar Ball's dad on the SportsCenter set.  This year, the Mountain Hawks limped home after the Monmouth game and are looking to build some swagger from an 0-2 start.

There will be some moment in this game - I don't know when it will be - where Lehigh will be challenged.  At that point, they will either reclaim the swagger they've lost, or they will be in an ever-deepening hole that will be even harder to climb out.

Lehigh 26, Yale 20

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