Defense Key for Bulldog Triumph

Dear Yale coach Jack Siedlecki,

I am writing to announce my resignation as Yale Daily News football reporter, a position I have held the past three seasons. What started off as a passionate love affair—oh, the excitement of covering an ’05 team that threw the ball 368 times and played three dramatic overtimes against Harvard!—has fizzled into an unending string of identical, fundamentally sound victories, two years’ worth of Ivy League dominance that almost makes me long for the days of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

This job, much like the victories for your Elis themselves, has become far too easy.

A year ago in this very column I explained to naïve Harvard fans harping on the mediocre passing statistics of Matt Polhemus that they hadn’t seen what the fleet-footed Yale quarterback was capable of.

A year ago in this very column I explained to naïve Harvard fans boasting about Clifton Dawson’s new Ivy League career rushing record that a dynamic sophomore from New Britain had already made the senior old news.

Cue Nov. 18, 2006. I remember Yale’s first play (with remarkable clarity, too, thanks to Harvard’s draconian booze statutes): with Harvard’s star defensive tackle Michael Berg and his cohorts stacking the line to stop McLeod, Polhemus faked a handoff to the wunderkind and dashed 19 yards on a naked bootleg. Polhemus would indeed dance all day in the pocket, then McLeod would gallop into the endzone (it happened three times) while Dawson ended his college career with only the 60 yards Brandt Hollander and the rabid Yale defense generously allowed him.

There was still something special about covering last year’s Game, the culmination of Yale’s ascent to the pinnacle of the Ivy League. But I no longer have the energy to reiterate the importance of Matt Polhemus’ intangibles (see 17-2 record as a starter) or Mike McLeod’s superiority to Dawson (on pace to have Dawson’s yardage record broken by this time next year and the touchdown record by October).

Frankly, Coach Siedlecki, I tired of your cliché team after the opener at Georgetown. You’ve won this season by running the ball (first in the Ivy League), playing great defense (first in the nation in points allowed), and winning the turnover battle (first in the Ivy League)—a vindication of every dogmatic coach in the country. Shame on you, Sid! Your boys are boring.

You’ve resurrected Woody Hayes to contrive a “Five Yards and a McLeod of Dust” offense. The result? About as much diversity in your playbook as at a Princeton tailgate, and nine straight opponents whose rush defense averages have risen after playing the Bulldogs (Harvard, for all the talk of its top-ranked run defense, will undoubtedly make 10).

I want a pretty-boy receiver, like Harvard’s Corey Mazza, who appears in Sports Illustrated photo shoots but disappears in big games (two receptions vs. Yale last year). Instead, you have a throwback fullback (Joe Fuccillo) who wears a cowboy collar behind his long hair and passes up touches for a chance to punch people in the mouth – who, in this golden age of the wide-open spread offense, still uses a fullback?

You have a kicker (Alan Kimball) who never misses, even when the game is on the line in double overtime and the snap is lower than a Roger Clemens splitter.

You have a former Pac-10 safety (Matt Coombs) who is content playing special teams and nickelback—roles he handles so well that he ranks ahead of every defensive lineman in tackles.

But coach, what I resent you most for is your defense. Before the season began, the New Haven Register ran an above-the-fold spread of Yale’s 11 defensive starters, below the headline, “Defense Begins with Defense.” Sure enough, the impossibly stingy unit has been the key to Yale’s defense of its Ivy League title, carrying the Elis to narrow wins over Penn and Brown even when McLeod’s Achilles toe limited his production (he only mustered 332 yards in those games).

Coach, you refuse to rush more than five defenders, and yet you consistently generate pressure on the quarterback, like the five sacks last year against the Crimson as the much-heralded Chris Pizzotti sputtered to a 6-for-17 passing performance.

You refuse to disguise your usual cover-four defense, yet it hasn’t yielded 200 passing yards since week three.

For well-lubricated fans, perhaps, there is a silver lining to the play of this relentless, ball-hawking defense – my roommate, for one example, has offered to match each Harvard point with a Jager Bomb at Toad’s.

But those of us in the press box have no such mind-altering recourse to the mind-numbing dominance of the 2007 Yale defense. Eleven returning starters, a preponderance of that oft-sung “senior leadership”, and experience at burying Pizzotti makes this game over before it even starts.

Last year Hollander and his gang silenced Dawson to make Harvard one-dimensional, then teed off on the immobile Pizzotti as he stood in the shotgun with a target on his back. There is little chance new running back Cheng Ho can take the pressure off Pizzotti where not even Dawson could.

So go ahead, defense, vanquish your tenth and final offense and seize your destiny. It will only affirm another shopworn adage in this paint-drying Yale season: defense wins championships.


Alex Goldberger

—Alex Goldberger is a staff reporter for the Yale Daily News.