Monday, August 13, 2007

Bulldog Bulldozer?

Yale is everyone's pick to win the league, but will they dominate? No.

First in a team-by-team look at the Ivies

I was not surprised to see Yale picked by just about everyone to win the Ivy title this season. After all, I was one of those people picking them. But don't be fooled, parity is back in the Ivy League after several years of Penn-Harvard domination. And that means the difference between coming in first and coming in last is not so big anymore.

If you don't believe me, consider the curious case of the 2006 Brown Bears, (insert the Rod Serling voice here), the 2005 league champions ended up at the bottom of the Ivies in 2006, (despite some idiot named Novak who picked them to repeat), but a choked lead against Yale, a tough overtime loss thanks to a close call by the refs at Dartmouth, and an extremely close loss to Columbia prevented them from a 5-2 overall record and what could have been second place.

Then there's Penn, who looked awfully like a team that was a kicker away from the Ivy title and a 7-0 league record.

And it seemed like most of the other teams in the Ivies who finished out of the money were 1-2 plays away from greatness.

Expect that trend to continue this season, as no one seems to be so totally stacked or so totally weak so as not to be able to win a game against any league opponent on any given Saturday.

But that said, some teams look "more equal" than others and seem to have a better track to hoisting that big championship trophy when the final gun sounds on November 17th.

And Yale is one of those teams.

1. Yale

Strengths: Running game and more running game. Junior Mike McLeod is the Ivy's best tailback, and I think he will challenge Yale's single season rushing record, (held by Rich Diana at 1,442 yards). I also expect McLeod to play an even bigger role this season as a pass receiver as Yale tries to break in some new starting wide receivers.

Senior Quarterback Matt Polhemus is another big part of the running game, often using his smarts to sprint out of trouble or make gains on a pre-designed play. He's not a speed-burner, but he gets things done more often than not and he's More experience than most Ivy QB's coming into this season.

There are some key losses to graduation on the offensive line, but not enough to give me too much pause. I expect McLeod to run away from most tacklers and Polhemus to get rid of the ball faster to big tight end Langston Johnson, who figures to get more catches this season.

Another strength should be the Bulldog defense, which I believe will be much improved this season. Despite the bevy of stars on the squad, Yale gave up more than 20 points a game, and was actually outpaced by their opponents on first downs, (Yale gained 185 versus 193 by their opponents). Another problem was pass defense, as the Bulldogs coughed up more than 233 yards by air per game.

But all those shaky defensive stats should actually frighten the rest of the league, because the Elis STILL shared the Ivy title last season and this season the defense has a lot of good things going for it, including:

1) Senior linebacker Lee Driftmeier, and honorable mention All-Ivy in 2005, is coming back after missing 2006 to injury. He's a great hitter.

2) Senior DB Nick Solakian is back too, also after missing 2006 to injury. He had some strong numbers in 2005, and should help bolster that secondary.

3) Junior linebacker Bobby Abare will get even better this year. He was 1st team All-Ivy as a sophomore last year.

4) Senior Brandt Hollander anchors an excellent veteran defensive line that really matured as the season went along last year, and was especially impressive in the Harvard game.

5) Nine of 11 defensive starters from 2006 return.

Another strength is senior kicker Alan Kimball, who may not seem to be as great as Brown's Steve Morgan or Columbia's Jon Rocholl, but he's darn good and could eclipse them by the end of the season.

Sophomore Tom Mante is a good punter and Yale's kick coverage teams were extremely good last year.

Weaknesses: The lack of a passing game could be a big problem if opposing teams are able to line eight guys in the box and somewhat neutralize McLeod. I think Yale will overcome this problem more often than not in 2007, but it will never be easy.

Yes, the defense is looking pretty stacked, but even if it improves, it has a way to go from last season. I can't remember the last time an Ivy champ or co-champ gave up more first downs than it gained. The collapse against Princeton at home last season was also telling. After Yale took a 31-20 lead with 10:52 left in the game, the Yale secondary allowed Princeton QB Jeff Terrell to go seven-for-seven for 135 yards and two touchdowns. A week later at Harvard, aided by five sacks, the secondary did a much better giving up just 154 yards on 13-for-32 passing. Yale needs to build on that performance or opposing veteran QB's will light them up. The Elis only had 17 sacks last season, and that needs to change in order to put less pressure on the secondary.


09/15/07 at Georgetown

Looks like an easy one. A loss or a poor performance of any kind here should give everyone serious pause.

09/22/07 vs. Cornell

Cornell's lack of a real passing threat means they have matchup problems with the Elis. Another must-win for Yale.

09/29/07 at Holy Cross

Holy Cross is a program on the rise and they may take some frustrations out on Yale like they did at Dartmouth last season. This could be a tough one for the Bulldogs.

10/06/07 vs. Dartmouth

Dartmouth just doesn't have the weapons this year, but Yale could get trapped here.

10/13/07 vs. Lehigh

Lehigh played Yale real tough last season, and the maturation of QB Sedale Threatt could spell the Elis doom as they look ahead to Penn the following week.

10/20/07 at Penn

Right now, this looks like the marquee game of 2007. Yale hasn't beaten Penn at Franklin Field since 1990, but there have been some close calls over the years. Winning this game isn't 100% essential to winning the title, especially since it takes place relatively early in the season, but it will be extremely important.

10/27/07 at Columbia

Could be a tough one after Yale comes off that tough game at Penn. Columbia's passing game presents problems for the Elis, and there is a possible "bad blood" issue here after Yale coach Jack Siedlecki called a timeout with a few seconds left to secure an added TD in the Bulldogs 21-3 win last year at the Bowl.

11/03/07 vs. Brown

This game could get ugly unless the Bears establish some kind of offensive attack this season.

11/10/07 at Princeton

A very tough game, but winnable. This could end up being a more important game than the Penn contest.

11/17/07 vs. Harvard

I like the Elis to grab two in a row over the hated Cantabs.

Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 8-2, 6-1 Ivy. First place.

BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: Yale's new O-line doesn't gel, the defense doesn't the pass better, or McLeod suffers an injury of any kind.


At Tue Aug 14, 12:10:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dartmouth took heavily favored holy cross to OT last year, and the green wouldve won if they had even just a bad kicker....i hardly think that holy cross took out any frustrations except after the game...

At Tue Aug 14, 12:15:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger DOC said...

Regarding "bad blood" vis a vis Columbia, I dont think the defence has forgotten Mr. McLeods' somersault into the end-zone after a TD last year.

At Tue Aug 14, 12:16:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yes, I meant after the game... the display at the middle of the field.

And McLeod's TD was weird... it was just like the Siedlecki time out... I was left wondering: "are they really trying to diss us? and if so, why?"

At Tue Aug 14, 01:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack and his tailback are a pair of first class jerks. Jack was either trying to cover a betting line or trying to diss us. His expallanntion was that he wanted a senior RB to score TD. Give me a break. The game was out of reach therre were 6 seconds left, we had no timeouts and any normal human being with an ounce or class would have taken a knee. As for McLeod's somersault, I hope our D knocks him into the cheap seats. As for the rest of the vaunted Yale team, we can and will beat them this year. Their QB is ordinary and we can hold their offense. We will not be denied!

At Tue Aug 14, 01:31:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yale sucks!

At Tue Aug 14, 02:20:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheap unsportsmanlike act by the Yale coach. The poor kid who scored the touchdown for Yale will have it on his conscience for the rest of his life, as will his teammates for not having the personal courage to stand up to Siedlecki and apologize after the game to the Lions. The Yale AD also lacks any class for not stepping in and apologizing on Yale's behalf. If any other college head coach had pulled this stunt, he would be looking for another job. But not at Yale where the prevailing institutional attitude has always been to look down upon anyone attending Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn whether they play football or not.

At Tue Aug 14, 02:35:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, here's a thought.

Why didn't Columbia just stop Yale from scoring????

At Tue Aug 14, 02:45:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the answer: the game was over. The ball was on the 6 yard line. Columbia had no timeouts. The coach was a rookie and his team had hung in all day. the score was 14 to 6 and Jack being a jerk thought that he would take heat by only winning by 8 points. If the rationale above were prevailing in football in general then no team with a win in hand would ever take a knee. And how to justify that somersault into the end zone by a first calss jerk who had basically been bottled up all day by the Columbia D? Jack and McLeod are a disgrace to the Yale uniform, and it was gutless low class conduct by both of them that will be the hallmarks of their careers. I hope that we are up 30 to 0 with first down on the Yale 1 yard line with 2 minutes to go and then take a knee four times in a row to show what itmeans to be a class act.

At Tue Aug 14, 09:53:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hohrman picks Eli's apart. Lions win with a ball control passing attack. Jack is still a loser. I'm straight with ANON saying we should have stopped them in the end. Here's another thought, there are some things you just aren't done and scoring a meaningless touchdown with basically no time on the clock is one of them. Jack isn't a rookie, he knows the unwritten rules. Hopefully, we can stick it to them this year! it's not like Jack coaches Ohio State or some other perennial powerhouse. He'll get his turn!

At Tue Aug 14, 08:45:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what its worth...
My son is an incoming freshman, and was recruited by both Yale and Columbia. As his father I had a chance to meet both head coaches and had individual visits with them. Coach Wilson connected better with both of us, and "sold" us more on the Columbia experience... he seemed more "real and relevant", was more likeable and interested in my son--this was a big reason we chose Columbia. I imagine other recruits felt the same way.

At Tue Aug 14, 09:06:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to hear from the Dad of an incoming freshman. No matter what you might hear, there is a vast army of us Columbia boosters who stand behind the team through thick and thin. Coach Wilson will be a great teacher and motivator for your son. Jack's players can't respect a coach who scores a meaningless touchdown with no time left. Your son made the right choice.

At Tue Aug 14, 09:57:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the mother of an incoming freshman and I can tell you that out of all the coaches we met in the recruiting process, incuding Yale, no one compared, or even came close, to the Columbia coaches and staff.

At Tue Aug 14, 10:19:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Music to our ears!

A good team experience and four years of Columbia and NYC is a great start to adulthood.


At Tue Aug 14, 10:25:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to know we have a group of coaches who connect so well to players and to their parents. You'll see a lot of camaraderie in the stands. Here's to a great 4 years for all incoming players AND their parents!

At Wed Aug 15, 03:44:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have a son starting this fall. One big reason for him choosing Columbia over Penn and Brown was the feeling that Coach Wilson and his staff are going to do something special at CU. I also think that winning a league title will be such a special experience for all players, fans, coaches and alumni.

At Wed Aug 15, 04:27:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's great to see that Jake's blog has been discovered by so many supporters of the program. Coach Wilson and his staff have this program on the verge of doing some great things. I think the parents of the incoming players will be happy to see how many players actually get on the field with this staff.

At Wed Aug 15, 04:52:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This doesn't reflect as much on Coach Wilson and his staff as it does on Columbia in general. But 3 years ago, when Twin Donut was still in existence, the ladyfriend and I accidentally had lunch with team captain JoJo's mother before a game. She's a very charming lady and she noted then that another of her sons had in fact played for a MUCH larger program.

"But they never seemed to care so much about him as Columbia seems to about my son," I remember her saying. "And my husband and I always feel really welcome for the games here too, there's something to be said for not being just two out of 64,000 people on a Saturday afternoon."

At Wed Aug 15, 05:15:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is "Twin Donut"?

At Wed Aug 15, 08:59:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Twin Donut was the long-standing donut shop right at the corner of 218th and Broadway as you head into the Baker Field complex. As of last season, it is Kaput. (Might be a good spot to build a parking garage).

At Wed Aug 15, 09:31:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, your great blog was mentioned by self and two other people at last night's Columbia Club of Northern NJ dinner with Coach Wilson. And several people afterward, including former players, specifically asked for this web address after they learned about "Roar Lions Roar."

Norries was his usual sly, self-deprecating self. (I suspect he revels in the realization that people might way underrate him at first solely based on his bulk; the man is certainly not the cliched version of a college football coach who woos alums and ESPN alike so successfully with mere flashes of his teeth and glibness.) He didn't reveal much, but as always he took pains to praise his players as people, not just as his players, something that always makes him seem very likable to me, not at all possessed of the emotional distance that Bob Shoop conveyed to some degree. I hate to say he has "warm and fuzzy-type feelings" towards his team, but he seems to genuinely care for them as individuals, that always comes out clearly and indicates why he may prove so very good for Columbia, however long he stays.

He also kidded Matt Bashaw, who was there with his father, that he might find himself challenged by some incoming freshmen. He stressed the seeming offensive depth and the seeming defensive depth, but didn't really go into much detail at all about the running back and QB issues. And he indicated that he might be happier if Rocholl didn't also have to serve as a punter this season, though he also admitted he'd use him there again if he proved better than two incoming kickers.

Lastly, he noted that he's only met you once himself, up in New Haven, when the subject of this blog finally came up towards the end of this evening. "But he seemed like an okay guy to me" was Coach Wilson's summing up.


At Wed Aug 15, 10:21:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


Thanks so much for that update and mentioning the blog to the people there. I totally forgot to remind people about the event yesterday, and I apologize for that, (but at least I mentioned it once or twice a few weeks ago).

I actually met Coach Wilson, (just to shake his hand), once before, when my then-three-year-old daughter wlaked right up to him before the Dartmouth game at the Chrystie Field House. He was really nice.

I hope I can gain his trust as the season goes along. The truth is, I understand where people are coming from when it comes to "interviewers" and the like. One of the reasons why I became a producer and not a field reporter is that I'm pretty talkative, but I never expect others to be that way with someone they don't know.


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