Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A look back

With the All-Ivy League teams coming out on Tuesday, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the 2010 season.

It was a pretty intriguing year complete with dramatic finishes and it was a season of progress as the Bulldogs went into the season finale still in contention for the Ivy League title.

The Bulldogs return quarterback Patrick Witt, running back Alex Thomas and receiver Chris Smith, all three were second-team All-Ivy selections and having its top passer, rusher and receiver returning is a good foundation. Gio Christodoulou, who led the Bulldogs with 563 receiving yards, has said he plans to return for a fifth season of eligibility.

That quartet were among 12 players who started on offense with eligibility remaining (not including center Jake Koury, who has not decided yet whether he will return for his fifth season of eligibility). Starting guards Gabe Fernandez and Colin Kruger and tackle Wes Gavin return after combining for 27 starts in 2010. Jeff Fell and Roy Collins also drew starts. The biggest hole to fill on offense is the h-back/tight end spot but it should be noted that freshman Keith Coty drew the start against Harvard. The blocking of graduating seniors Shane Bannon and Chris Blohm will not be easy to replace. Losing receiver Jordan Forney, who shared team MVP honors with junior linebacker Jordan Haynes, is a big blow since he made more than his share of clutch plays over the last three seasons but the emergence of sophomore Allen Harris (who started against Harvard) and freshmen Deon Randall and Cameron Sandquist as well as the expected return of Peter Balsam should make the receiving position a team strength once again.

Running back depth is another position of strength with Mordecai Cargill, Javier Sosa and Elijah Thomas all coming back as well as Alex Thomas.

On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line will take a hit with the loss of starting defensive ends Tom McCarthy and Sean Williams and defensive tackle Joe Young. The good news is the Bulldogs rotated in so many players on the front four that Yale is in good shape with the return of tackles Jake Stoller, Chris Dooley and Reed Spiller and ends Matt Battaglia, Allen Davis and Austin Pulsipher. Former starter Pat Moran is expected to return. A starting front four of Battaglia, Dooley, Stoller and Moran could be rather imposing.

Linebackers Jordan Haynes (a team-best 102 tackles) and Will McHale (55 tackles) return to anchor what could be the Ivy's best LB corps next season. Jesse Reising still could come back for a fifth year of eligibility although his attention is obviously on recovering after a crushing collision with Harvard running back Gino Gordon. If Reising opts to graduate and head off to Marine Officer Candidate School, Wes Moyer and JV stars Brian Leffler and Ben Ashcraft would be able replacements.

In the secondary, cornerback Chris Stanley and Adam Money (62 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries between them) will need to be replaced. Kurt Stottlemyer, Russell Perkins and Dawson Halliday were vying for the starting cornerback position before Stanley emerged while special-teams star John Powers as well as talented freshmen like Nick Okano, Max Napolitano and Chris Brady figure to be in contention for more playing time. The good news is that cornerback Drew Baldwin and free safety Geoff Dunham will be among the best players in the Ivy League at their respective positions.

With kicker Philippe Panico and punter Greg Carlsen as well as star returners Smith, Christodoulou and Randall all coming back, there should be some stability on special teams.

I know this much, there was a different vibe at the season-ending banquet this year than there was a year ago even though both times it was the morning after the season-ending loss to Harvard.

"I think the energy is palpable," Yale football coach Tom Williams said on Sunday. "The guys understand now that we are back, we expect to stay back. The younger guys have an expectation now of where the program should be. I believe the guys are excited to get back going even more so than they were a year ago."

There were some issues which kept an impressive season from being a glorious one.

The two main flaws on this Yale team was red zone offense and special teams.

Both came back to bit the Bulldogs against Harvard as Yale failed to register a point on three of six red-zone appearances and gave up one touchdown on a kickoff return and a blocked punt set up another Crimson TD.

Breaking down the numbers, Yale scored touchdowns in 19 of 32 trips to and inside the opponents' 20 but the Bulldogs had nine empty trips which made the Georgetown and Fordham games closer than they needed to be and cost them the Harvard game.

The special teams numbers are even scarier. Yale gave up five return touchdowns, two on kickoffs, two on punts and one following a blocked punt. Yale also had three field goals, two extra points and two punts blocked and had punts of 4, 11 and 23 yards. For the season Yale was 6 of 18 on field goals and if you take away Panico's 5 for 5 effort in a three-game stretch against Penn, Columbia and Brown, the Bulldogs were 1 for 13 on field-goal tries. That doesn't even discount the number of times the Yale coaches passed on field goals and went for it on fourth down.

It's not a reach to say that if Yale had a kicker/punter the caliber of a Tom Mante, Yale may have been 10-0. Then again those who are of the glass is half empty train of thought might say that winning against Georgetown and Dartmouth on the last play of the game and winning four other games by a total of eight points, Yale's final record could have been closer to the 4-6 mark of the 2009 squad than the 7-3 one posted by the 2010 team.

The good news is most of the players on special teams are coming back so the Yale coaching staff has time to make sure the same issues don't flare up next season.

"As I looked at the team and did my review, we lost three games because we had kicking game gaffes," Williams said. "We know that and we talked about that all season. It is ironic that we had solid games on offense and defense and didn't have a solid kicking game (against Harvard). That will be a great lesson for our guys as they go forward. We have the bulk of the team coming back so we look to build on that."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wrap-up. I agree with most of what you say, although I think the OL still needs some improvement - no All Ivies (even HM)except for Koury.
Also, I'm concerned about the difference in scoring between the 1st and 2nd halves of each game. Yale scored 146 points in the 1st half and 78 in the 2nd, and about 10 of those were scored in the Penn game after the outcome was decided. Question whether it's coaching, conditioning or talent.
I'd be interested in your views.

11:22 AM 
Blogger Jim Fuller said...

Those numbers are troubling and speaks to the immaturity of Yale's offense. I think with its No. 1 quarterback, all of its running backs and two top receivers as well as at least three starting offensive linemen returning, Yale's offense should continue to improve. Finishing off drives will be something that needs to improve. I do think it is easier to move the ball and score in the first half. When you get to the second half, the score will dictate how both the offense and defense will play. If Yale has a comfortable lead, the opponents will focus on stopping the run. If the Bulldogs are behind, then obviously the other team will be sending players after Witt. I think if the same pattern holds true next season with Yale returning so many key offensive players, I think the coaches will have some explaining to do.

I don't put much stock in the All-Ivy selections. I thin Yale's offensive line has made remarkable progress from two years ago and even from last season.

5:43 PM 

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