Football looks to stop Crusaders

by Austin Zalkin | 10/13/00 5:00am

The Dartmouth football team is better than its 0-4 record. The Big Green are better than the 18 points a game they have scored and the 39 points a game they have allowed.

They proved this in a demoralizing 24-14 loss last week to Yale when they took on a confident, hungry opponent, and nearly floored the Bulldogs with an improbable win.

Maybe they didn't win. Maybe they didn't get that crucial first victory that evaded them for so long last year as well. But the game built morale -- a sense that this team can be successful.

"We had an opportunity to win the ballgame after leading for most of the game," Dartmouth Head Coach John Lyons said in an interview Wednesday. "We just couldn't sustain it for four quarters."

Yale was tough. This week's opponent, Holy Cross (4-1), may be tougher.

Last weekend, the Crusaders rocked Penn 34-17 -- the same Penn team that demolished Dartmouth 48-14 the weekend before. But the Crusaders also lost by six points at Yale on the same weekend Penn downed the Big Green.

So there is reason for hope.

Dartmouth offense

The brightest parts of the 2000 Dartmouth season have been provided by the offense. Quarterback Brian Mann '02 has led a number of crisp, efficient drives, mixing runs effectively with short pass plays.

Unfortunately, Mann was hurt during the team's opening game and had to miss all of the next game. He was also pulled in the fourth quarter against Penn for a poor performance.

Mann put to rest some talk of a quarterback controversy last weekend with a 28-46, 285-yard performance against the Bulldogs. However, he did throw three interceptions, including one on a potential go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.

"I thought that Brian for the most part played pretty well," Lyons said of his quarterback's performance versus the Bulldogs. "The interceptions that he threw were at critical times, which hurt us."

For the season, Mann is 56-97 (57.7 percent) for 584 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranks among the Ivy leaders in several categories despite missing the equivalent of a game and a half.

Mann's favorite receiver, Damien Roomets '02, ranks second in the Ivy League in passes caught and yards with 34 grabs for 388 yards. He also has three touchdowns.

"I think [defenses] pay special attention to him," Lyons said. "He seems to be the guy we go to in crucial situations."

Roomets has established himself as a star, and has drawn the double coverage from opposing defenses to prove it. The Green are deep enough at receiver to make up for the recent attention paid to Roomets.

Matt DeLellis '02, who has 11 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and Matt Davis '03, who has caught seven for 79 yards, are part of that strong corps.

The Big Green frequently use four- and five-wide receiver sets. Jay Barnard '04, who contributed prominently for the first time against Yale, may become another important receiver.

"I thought we spread the ball around pretty well" against Yale, Lyons said.

The running game has been bolstered by the emergence of tailback Aaron Pumerantz '02. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first full game of the season against Yale. In limited duty for the whole year, he has run 45 times for 234 yards -- an impressive 5.2-yard per cary average.

"Aaron made some really tough, hard runs Saturday against Yale," Lyons said. "We spell him with Mike Gratch '02. I thought that worked pretty well last week."

The Green have struggled with the running game in recent years, and hope Pumerantz is a permanent solution.

Holy Cross offense

Holy Cross' scoring has formed an almost perfect Bell Curve this season, running the gamut from 38 points in its opening game against Georgetown to a low of 17 points in a victory over Towson before climbing to 34 two weeks later against Penn.

It's hard to know what Crusader offense will appear on any given Saturday, particularly given that it has two competent quarterbacks and a number of widely varying formations.

Quarterbacks Erreick Stewart and Brian Hall are both sophomores who can run and throw. Against Penn, Hall started and notched a touchdown each way in the opening half. Stewart replaced him and completed six of 11 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Hall has taken the predominance of the snaps this year, but Stewart -- a transfer from Grambling -- replaces him ably.

Holy Cross uses three- and four-wide receiver sets and three-running back sets interchangeably.

"They have a lot of different ways to attack you," Lyons warned. "They run a lot of option. They will spread you out with four and five receivers at times, and we've had trouble with that."

Holy Cross' best receiver is another Grambling transfer, David Thompson. He has caught 18 passes this season for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Two other receivers, Steve Green and David Kasouf, have caught more than ten balls for over 100 yards.

Lyons said Holy Cross has a very good offensive line, and that its quarterbacks use short drop-backs to further avoid defensive pressure.

The Crusaders mix the run and the pass well. They have four running backs with 100 or more yards rushing on the season, headlined by the quarterback Hall.

Hall has run 74 times for 342 yards -- a 4.6 yard-per-carry average -- and five touchdowns.

True running backs Calvin Souder, Joe Uliano and Michael Gillis have also put up good numbers. The former two average better than four yards a carry, and Gillis has scored five touchdowns on the ground this year.

Dartmouth defense

Glancing at the numbers, Dartmouth's defense does not look stellar. It has allowed almost 40 points a game and has yet to hold a team below 24 points.

The Big Green rank last in the Ivy League in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and turnovers caused. Their defensive backfield has allowed about as many long pass plays in four games as the best units in the League will allow all season.

There are some positives though. For one, parts of the defensive front have mustered a solid pass rush.

Defensive end Dan Hutchinson '01 is tied for the Ivy League lead with four sacks. He has put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including a two-sack performance against Colgate in the team's opening contest.

Defensive tackle Matt Walker '01 leads the Ivies with seven tackles for a loss, including three sacks. He has been a dependable run-stopper in the middle.

"Overall the defensive line's held up pretty well," Lyons said. "Both Matt and Hutch have made some sacks and tackles for a loss, and we're going to continue to need that kind of effort from those guys."

Additionally, four of the Ivy League's top five tacklers play for Dartmouth. Linebacker Matt Mercer '02 ranks first with 39 stops and fellow 'backer Josh Woods '03 is tied for second with 33.

In the secondary, cornerback Phil Frost '04 has 30 tackles and safety Ken Phelan '02 has 28, placing them fourth and fifth.

The Green's biggest weakness has been its inability to stop big passing plays. In successive games, Colgate's quarterback Tom McCune, New Hampshire's Ryan Day, Penn's Gavin Hoffman and most recently Yale's Peter Lee have burned the defensive backfield for long gains over the top of the defense and on slants down the middle.

Yale mixed these two last week in scoring 17 unanswered points to win by 10. In the first half, as Dartmouth bottled up the Bulldogs' slot receiver, Eric Johnson, Lee found two speedy receivers deep for several 25-plus yard gains. In the final period, with Dartmouth wary of those plays, Yale found Johnson repeatedly for 15-yard passes down the middle for third- and fourth-down conversions.

Against Yale, "We still gave up too many big plays," Lyons said. He added, "We've got to do a better job on third down."

Holy Cross will certainly look to open up the passing game and mix its play calls to take advantage of the Big Green's difficulty in the defensive backfield.

Holy Cross defense

The Crusaders' defense has been reasonably permissive this year, allowing more than 100 yards rushing a game and better than 150 yards passing. Teams have scored an average of 22 points on Holy Cross with insignificant highs and lows.

They have made eight interceptions and recovered six fumbles -- just under three turnovers per game.

The Big Green have already faced better defenses.

Give it away now

Dartmouth can't turn the ball over. It's that simple.

In several games this year, the Big Green have taken an early lead on a stellar first drive, only to give away its momentum by giving away the ball. If the game stays close, the Green can't turn the ball over in crunch time as it has also been wont to do.

"They've been a constant problem for us," Lyons said of turnovers. "That's what's hurt our offense.

"Yale was almost patient and content to let us move it [offensively], counting on the turnover."

Dartmouth's defense can't be expected to shut out its opponent for an entire game. It has shown that it can do so for a quarter or even a half, but not for a full 60 minutes. The offense must pick up the scoring slack, and it can't do this without holding onto the ball.

Clean football will bring the Big Green their all-important first win of the year. Turnovers will turn another potential win into that other thing.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!