After two mediocre offensive efforts in home losses to Cornell and Lafayette, I received more than a few questions in my weekly Yale football online chat about what's up with the offense and when will the new staff open things up.
Well, there were some new wrinkles in the 38-7 win over lowly Dartmouth. First, Yale coach Tom Williams and I have a different opinion on what constitutes a new wrinkle. I consider it to be something that has not been utilized in game action while is definition is something that wasn't worked on in practice.
While many of the dimensions Yale used en route to rolling up 520 yards I have seen in my weekly trips to practice, actually seeing them utilized in games was an encouraging sign of progress.
The no-huddle offense caught Dartmouth off guard. Then again, so did the fake punt, onsides kick, quarterback draw and so on and so forth. Yale was 7 for 14 on 3rd down conversion and if Brook Hart had not short-hopped a throw to John Sheffield, the Bulldogs would have been 2 for 2 on 4th down conversations. I also liked seeing Chris Smith getting the ball on reverses and the swing passes to the running backs.
The screen game, which Williams and offensive coordinator Brian Stark said would be a key component, was executed better today than it had been in the last two home outings. Brook Hart hooking up with freshman Chris Smith with a deep ball which turned into a 73-yard touchdown pass on a perfect pitch was also encouraging. Actually, I applaud the first deep ball which was incomplete but at least put into the mind of the Dartmouth coaches that Yale would at least consider throwing the ball down the field.
Any play that includes throwing the ball to tight end John Sheffield is a good play in my eyes. Sheffield caught a team-high eight passes, pushing his team-leading total of 25. He also passed a host of players including Curt Grieve and former NFL stars Gary Fencik and John Spagnola to move into seventh place on Yale's career reception list with 90 catches.
Sheffield broke three tackles on a 3rd and 9 play for a first down to set up Yale's first touchdown. With the emergence of freshmen Chris Smith and Allen Harris, the reliable Jordan Forney and big-play specialist Peter Balsam requiring attention from opposing defenses, I would expect Sheffield to have even more room to operate.
The quarterback plan of having Hart and Patrick Witt split time ended when Witt was benched for a violation of team rules. All Hart did was complete 28 of 40 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns. I know it was against Dartmouth but you couldn't help but think Hart moved ahead in the quarterback competition. Hart is showing more pocket presence and the Yale staff is encouraging him to limit his options leading to him cutting down on mistakes. Hart was sacked once, on Yale's first offensive play, but Williams blamed that on a receiver running the wrong route.
Even more than his gun of a left arm, I have been impressed by the way Hart handled a difficult situation. He set a Yale single-season record by completing 62.1 percent of his passes as a sophomore before being beaten out by Witt. With Witt having issues with turnovers and making some questionable decisions, Hart kept putting in the work and has been - by all accounts - the model teammate. All you need to know about Hart you can find out by watching the way his teammates celebrated with him. They know he could have rocked the boat but put the team's goals ahead of his own but he showed remarkable class and poise in the way he dealt with everything.
"That is a testament to Brook," Sheffield said. "That is kind of the (attitude) we have had as a team is to put the team first. We was battling when Witt was the starter and he only had two reps, he made the most of it. Last week he comes in and did whatever he needed to make the most of it. As you saw today, that was an achievement and hopefully that is not the last achievement that he has."
If not for an extremely late flag thrown on Adam Money for defensive holding, Yale likely would have had a shutout. If my eyes did not deceive me, the flag on Money was not thrown until the junior cornerback neared midfield on what appeared to be his second interception of the season. If he did tug the shirt of the intended receiver, why not throw the flag before the ball in thrown because once it is in the air, it should be called pass interference. Was it a good call? I am not sure. But it was a late, really, really late call and should not have been the case.
Four Yale freshmen played few roles in Yale's offensive outburst.
Mordacei Cargill ran for a team-high 52 yards, Smith (3 catches, 82 yards) and Allen Harris (5 catches, 76 yardd) made some big plays and Jeff Marrs saw plenty of time at guard.
The news on Dartmouth quarterback Alex Jenny, knocked out of the game with an injured elbow on a cornerback blitz by Money, was not encouraging. Sounds like he could be out for a while.
Yale appeared to be OK health wise.
Drew Baldwin, who has top-flight ball skills, made a sensational interception for Yale's only turnover. Sean Williams, who continues to impress me, Tom McCarthy and Reed Spiller each had sacks while Geoff Dunham had a team-high six tackles including one of the bone-crunching variety on running back Nick Schwieger.
Sophomore Alex Thomas is finally healthy enough to make an impact. The former Ansonia High star ran four times for 28 yards including his first career varsity touchdown and had three catches for 26 yards.
Yale's football weekend will conclude with a 1 p.m. JV game against Dean College Sunday at Clint Frank Field. Among the players on Dean's squad are former New Haven area products Michael Mainiero (Shelton), Marvin McClendon (Hillhouse), Rodney Williams (Hyde), Ron Vece (Amity) and Dan Mazzacane (Cheshire).
Labels: Adam Money, Alex Thomas, Brook Hart, Drew Baldwin, John Sheffield, Jordan Farrell, Mordecai Cargill, Patrick Witt