Football prepares to take on Brown University this weekend
“The world didn’t end with the loss to Harvard [University],” football head coach Buddy Teevens said in reference to the last-minute defeat three weeks back that snapped his team’s 2015 undefeated record.
While the coach noted that it may have taken a week for his team to arrive at this realization, the Big Green nevertheless rebounded with a commanding victory over Cornell University last Friday and now looks to close out the season with two more wins. That path starts this Saturday afternoon against Brown University (4-4, 2-3 Ivy), as No. 23 Dartmouth (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) will need to overcome the most high-octane offense in the Ivy League in its final away game of the 2015 season.
After responding to an 0-2 start to the season with four straight victories — two in-conference — the Bears have suffered another losing streak, falling against their last two Ivy opponents by an average of 23.5 points. The up-and-down results leave Brown tied for the fourth-best in-conference record but with the sixth best overall record among all Ivy teams.
Notably, a 29.1 points-per-game output by an explosive offense has at times been offset by a dismal defensive unit that allows an average of 34 points a game, as well as a third-worst 5.8 yards per opposing play in the conference. For quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 and company, a clash with this opposing defense should provide an opportunity to return the offense to its earlier standards of proficiency after failing to score more than 21 points in a game for almost a month.
“Brown is particularly a zone-pressure team,” Williams said. “They’re always a sound football team. They’re always very aggressive and nice-sized guys who play hard, so we definitely have to bring the energy, especially at their place…it’s going to be a tough battle for us, we got to go in and establish our identity early, get some points on the board and continue to play aggressively.”
The matchup with Brown on offense and Dartmouth on defense, however, will likely go the furthest in determining who triumphs in Saturday’s game. The Big Green defense — ranked the best in the conference and among the best in the country with an FCS-leading 3.77 yards allowed per opposing play — will encounter one of its toughest challenges to date.
Representing one of the most prolific passing offenses in the FCS this season, Brown tops the Ivy League in raw passing totals, and, having run the most plays out of conference squads with 635 — just under 80 per game — also adds a high-paced dimension to its offense.
“A lot of guys have seen fast offenses, Princeton [University] likes to go really fast,” Dartmouth safety David Caldwell ’16 said. “We have a bunch of returning starters on the defense [that played Princeton last year], and we’re pretty deep, so I think that that will help us as well.”
Furthermore, the safety — who has a team-leading seven takeaways on the season — noted that he and the rest of the secondary will relish the chance to square off against a pass-heavy team.
“From the numbers I’ve been seeing, they’re going to chuck the rock, and as a secondary we love that,” Caldwell said. “When you get balls coming at you every time, there’s no lull for you… For us, it might even be better that they’re coming at us every time, so we’re going to be in the game on almost every play.”
But while a high volume of pass attempts and offensive plays has translated to gaudy statistics, this strategy detracts from the Bears’ efficiency, as a 7.3 yards-per-pass average comes in at only fourth in the conference.
Leading the way at the quarterback position, senior Marcus Fuller has thrown for more than 2,300 passing yards on the season, though his 10 interceptions to go with 12 touchdowns reveals a susceptible aspect of the team’s air attack. In the passing game, Fuller has three primary receiving options, as these wideouts — Alexander Jette, Brian Strachan and Troy Doles — have all individually caught more than 50 passes each for more than 500 yards. Two of them — Doles and Jette — have exceeded the 800-yard mark.
“[Fuller] is a talented guy, he throws the deep ball very well,” Teevens said about the opposing quarterback. “They are a high-paced offense. I think we’re a well-conditioned team, so I don’t see the endurance being a problem. They’ve turned the ball over a little bit, and that’s something we need to focus on. We need to put pressure on the passer. He has taken a lot of hits as well, and that’s upsetting enough to a quarterback if he’s getting roughed up every time he’s throwing the football.”
The Dartmouth defense will attempt to get off to a better start to the game than it did last week, when it allowed Cornell to move deep into its territory on the opposition’s first two possessions. Much of the Big Red’s success came on the ground, as the Big Green surrendered 34 yards to opposing lead back Luke Hagy on Cornell’s first drive.
“Hagy’s a great running back, he has records at Cornell, so we knew that coming in,” Caldwell said. “[Cornell’s rushers] got to the edge a few times, which hurt us a little bit. They came in with a few different schemes than we had seen on film. So it took us a little while to adjust to that, and get guys going in the right spots. After we resolved [that], we were able to settle down a little bit.”
Although the passing game took some time to settle into the game, the rushing attack granted an important lift throughout the night last Friday. On the team’s first touchdown drive, the majority of the yardage came on the ground, capped by a Ryder Stone ’18 fourth-down run for six points. By the end of the night, Brian Grove ’16, Kyle Bramble ’16 and Vito Penza ’19 all had at least 50 yards rushing. Moreover, the ground game reached 211 yards — compared to 208 in the pass — which marked a season-high total.
“It’s very helpful [in] moving the ball,” Teevens said about the emergence of his running backs. “It take a little bit of pressure off the pass game, it takes a little pressure off the pass protection with the offensive line. I thought the matchups were good, and we were able to move some people.”
With 15 penalties accrued by the game’s final whistle, a harmful tendency had once again sprung up for the team. With the team’s propensity for penalties flaring up in these last two home games, Dartmouth now has as many penalties in its last three games as it had in its first five contests of the season. According to Teevens, of the 41 flags called on his team in the last three weekends, he considered 27 of them “self-inflicted” — penalties along the lines of offsides, delay of game or other procedural fouls.
Looming over the next few weeks of football for the Big Green, the prospect of at least a share of the Ivy League title hinges entirely on whether an undefeated Harvard team falters at some point in its remaining two games. Such a situation nearly materialized last Saturday — when the Crimson played in one of its closest games of the season against Columbia University, edging out an eight-point win — but Dartmouth still maintains that any success will result from focusing on what it can only do on the field.
“The championship, we don’t control completely,” Teevens said. “We can’t. We lost to Harvard, but we can control what we do, and that puts us in a position to have success if Harvard struggles against [the University of Pennsylvania] or against Yale… We have things to do and things to prove and I’ve said it all along — I think our guys enjoy playing together, and playing well together.”
In terms of motivation the team holds as the season winds down, despite one blemish of a loss on its record, the Big Green remains committed to finishing 2015 on a strong note.
“We set out that we wanted to win every game, and it’s a couple plays that beat us at Harvard,” Williams said. “We definitely don’t want that to continue to affect us, we have to forget about the past. It’s certainly nice to be 7-1 and we want to finish 9-1. So we’re definitely hungry to keep winning and keep playing with each other, because this is a tight-knit team.”