Football to kick off season with battle against Georgetown

by Alexander Agadjanian | 9/17/15 5:24pm

Long removed from its heights of Ivy League dominance in the 1990s, the football program has endured a lengthy revival period. After a 13-year drought between winning seasons that was snapped in 2010, the Big Green have steadily improved in nearly each subsequent season, only dipping down as far as a .500 winning percentage in 2011. With expectations higher than ever, that development could reach its zenith in 2015 with the potential for Dartmouth’s first Ivy League championship in 18 seasons.

In the Ivy League preseason media poll, the Big Green was picked to finish second in the conference, accruing four out of 17 first-place votes in the process. That mark would amount to the highest for the team since 1996, an undefeated, Ivy championship-winning year. The team, however, does not take much stock in these projections, affirming that it will control its own fate.

“The preseason media polls aren’t a big deal,” quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 said. “If they were right, they’d have us as [number] one. We just have to go out there and compete every day and get better every day, and I think that [will] take care of itself.”

Fortunately for the Big Green, these preseason polls tend to have poor predictive power — since 1996, only two seasons saw the team chosen by the consensus poll to take home the title actually do so. It follows that a slightly more under the radar squad, such as the Big Green, seems primed to take a leap into serious contention.

Head coach Buddy Teevens has felt a change in the atmosphere surrounding a program with championship aspirations.

“You feel there’s a lot more excitement across the board,” he said. “The faculty members you see talk about it…[from] townspeople in the local community, alumni members who come down to practice. They read the things in the paper and so forth. And I’ve said it for years, the preseason polls don’t matter, it’s the end of the season polls.”

Talk about the team’s improvement and their potential to seize the ever-illusive Ivy title is not just happening around town and on the coaching staff, though, and Teevens said the team itself has high expectations for where they will finish the season.

“And I think our guys [have] a little chip in their shoulder. Nobody’s thought much about us, and we’ve continually improved,” Teevens said. “The guys are aware of [the expectations], but I think as much as anything they’re appreciative of people taking notice.”

Such lofty prospects for 2015 rest largely on a squad loaded with experience, depth and premier conference talent. The team’s success should start with the quarterback position, as Williams starts his senior campaign as one of the top players in the Ivy League and with his feats already stamped in Dartmouth’s record books. Only three-fourths the way through his career, Williams has the third-most career passing yards and second-most touchdown passes in program history, with a chance to finish first in both categories. Last season was particularly a banner year for the Texas native as he topped the League in completion percentage and passing efficiency, and exhibited a potent dual threat presence in posting among the best rushing totals on his team.

Williams’s favorite target from a year ago, Ryan McManus ’15, will hope to reignite one of the conference’s best quarterback-wide receiver combinations. McManus hauled in an Ivy-leading eight scores and was in the top five in both receptions and receiving yards in the conference in 2014. Victor Williams ’16 provided additional help downfield coming in third on the team in receiving yards and figures to undertake a more prominent role in 2015.

Joining Dalyn Williams in the backfield will be a strong trio of rushers composed of Kyle Bramble ’16, Brian Grove ’16 and Ryder Stone ’18. Bramble, an All-Ivy Second Team honors recipient, led the team in rushing and sustained an excellent 5.2 per-rush average across all 10 games last year, in addition to providing help in the passing attack. Though he received fewer touches than Bramble, Grove showed ability as another rushing option. Stone, a late bloomer in 2014, will look to build on the gaudy four-touchdown and 173-yard totals he fielded in only the final two games of the season. Paving the way for these runners will be an offensive line that loses four of five starters from 2014, but with depth that should help fill the void up front well.

The impressive qualities hardly end there. In returning all but two of its defensive starters from 2014, as well as boasting three fifth-year seniors in Chai Reece ’15, Troy Donahue ’15 and Eric Wickham ’15, the defensive unit could easily match the offense in terms of team strengths. The defense allowed the second fewest points per game, yielded the third fewest yards and grabbed the most interceptions in the Ivy League last season, and the team should sustain if not improve on those metrics this year.

“It’s definitely going to help,” defensive back Danny McManus ’17 said about his unit’s wealth of experience. “Those [fifth year seniors] have been playing together for a long time now. That cohesion is definitely helping us out on defense.”

Four seniors, all of whom were tapped with 2014 All-Ivy First Team selections, will lead the way. A.J. Zuttah ’16 will seek to clog up the opposing running game once again on the defensive line, Will McNamara ’16 comes off a conference-topping 9.7 tackles per game and will tie the defense together at linebacker, while Donahue and Vernon Harris ’16 will patrol the secondary.

Before the team begins its Ivy League slate, one that will determine whether the team reaches its ultimate goal, the Big Green will face a series of non-conference opponents that serve as preparation. The first game of the year will send the team to the nation’s capital for a Saturday afternoon tilt against Georgetown University.

With their last winning season coming in 2011, the Hoyas are trying to improve from a 3-8 2014 record. Two games into its new season, Georgetown is 1-1.

Georgetown will have plenty of help with several key players returning from its team nucleus a year ago. Senior Jo’el Kimpela had 838 rushing yards in 2014 with a 5.3 yard per-rush average, and has remained the top running back in 2015. He shares the backfield with a few other rushers, notably senior quarterback Kyle Nolan, who already has two touchdowns on the ground this year.

Teevens said he believes that this matchup will pose a good challenge for his team. He also referenced the severe neck injury suffered by Hoya linebacker Ty Williams that made national headlines in the team’s season opener, but from which Georgetown bounced back with a win.

“They’ve got an outstanding running back, they’ve got a good quarterback,” Teevens said. “I think what they showed against Marist [College] is really the team we’ll see. A team that can put points on the board, that does a good job in the kicking game, that’s stingy from a defensive standpoint.”

As a team, the Hoyas do not veer in one particular way in terms of offensive style. The team has averaged four yards per each rush and 4.7 yards on pass attempts, as well as evenly called rush and pass plays through two 2015 games, numbers that draw similarities to those seen in 2014. The same holds on defense, as Georgetown does not necessarily possess a single glaring weakness, though they have showed to be a bit more vulnerable to the passing attack.

As with every year, the Big Green will open the season later than most college football teams, and thus encounter in its opener a squad already with the experience of a few games played. Williams stressed that the team needed to start the game strongly in this type of situation.

“It’s always an adjustment playing a team that’s been on the field,” Williams said. “They’re going to be a little faster probably the first couple plays, but as long as we do what we’re supposed to do I think we can do pretty well.”