Yale football in contention for Ivy League title midway through season

Yale was the only 0-1 football team in the Ivy League after a 38-14 loss to No. 18 Holy Cross Sept. 17. From there, big wins over the likes of Cornell and Dartmouth solidified Yale’s place as a contender for the conference championship.

“It’s like a different football team,” head coach Tony Reno said of the team’s growth. “I think the tangible areas, like what you see: scores, tackles, yards. The intangible areas are the growth they’ve made in preparation and also the demeanor we have in games.”

Yale is now 4-1, 2-0 in the Ivy League.

However, the Bulldogs’ biggest tests are in the coming weeks as it continues its conference schedule against three other 2-0 conference teams. Penn and Princeton, both 5-0 overall, are both daunting opponents for Yale. 

Unsurprisingly, the biggest match of the year will be the 138th iteration of The Game — the annual season finale against Harvard (4-1). This will be the first time since 2016 The Game will be played at Harvard Stadium. 

“We’re going to be in dogfights the rest of the way through,” Reno said. “We’ve got to be able to have that same demeanor to be able to push through and get the outcomes we want.”

Dogs gotta run

Perhaps Yale’s biggest strength is being able to get the ball down the field. The Bulldogs lead the league in total offense, with 423 yards per game. Tre Peterson (440) and Nolan Grooms (409) rank No. 2 and No. 3 in the Ivy League for total rushing yards, which speaks volumes as Grooms is a quarterback, not a running back. 

The newest addition to the rushing core is rookie Joshua Pitsenberger. With 55 rushing yards per game, he’s made a name for himself on the roster. On Thursday, Pitsenberger was one of 25 players named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List. At the end of the season, the award will go to the top freshman in FCS.

Closing out games

The Elis’ biggest weakness thus far has been playing tough through the full 60 minutes. In weeks two, three, and four, Yale overpowered its opponents (Cornell, Howard, and Dartmouth), but made things tight as time was winding down. Across those three games, opponents outscored Yale 34-7 in the fourth quarter.

Cruising through the home stretch seems like a reason for concern, but Reno isn’t too worried.

“We ran the clock out at Cornell and I think for a big part of the Howard [game],” he said after week four’s win over Dartmouth. “You have an opportunity to close the game out earlier… we can’t allow opponents to have an opportunity to come back in the game.”

The Bulldogs proved their abilities to finish strong in week five against Bucknell. The Yale defense only allowed nine yards in the final quarter as the Bulldogs outscored the Bison 13-0. 

Looking ahead

With five weeks remaining — all of which include games against conference rivals — every game matters. As it stands, all teams in the Ivy League are either 2-0 or 0-2 in conference play. Penn, Princeton, and Harvard join Yale at the top of the standings.

Both Yale and Harvard are 4-1 overall with losses to nationally ranked Holy Cross, while Penn and Princeton each have 5-0 records. Although Princeton (No. 23) and Penn (RV) were both recognized in the latest FCS coaches poll, all four teams look about even. This week’s games — Yale at Penn and Princeton at Harvard — should provide more clarity on which teams are favorites to bring home the Ivy title. 

Yale heads to Philadelphia to play Penn on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN+).