NEW HAVEN - Yale coach Tony Reno says his team is approaching Saturday's meeting with Harvard as if it were any other game.
Clearly, it is not.
The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) will be playing in front well over 50,000 fans at the Yale Bowl with a chance to secure the program's first outright Ivy League championship in 37 years. The team also can win back-to-back games against the Crimson for the first time since winning three in a row from 1998 to 2000.
“We don't look at things that way,” Reno said during the team's weekly media luncheon. “We just look at things in the context of continuing to improve.”
The Bulldogs certainly have done that. Yale lost just one game this season, 28-27 at Dartmouth, and clinched a share of the Ivy title by beating Princeton last week. The Bulldogs won just three games year ago, including a season-ending upset of Harvard, which cost the Crimson a share of the Ivy title.
A loss to Penn last week ended the Crimson's chance to capture a share of this year's league crown. So Harvard (5-4, 3-3), comes into the game hoping to turn the tables on Yale.
“It's hard to say it's no bigger than another game because there's 60,000 people in the stands, and there's people coming up to me all week and saying, ‘You'd better win this one,’” Harvard linebacker Luke Hutton said.
“I'd be lying if I said some guys weren't a little more motivated to play against Yale. It is a pride thing. It's not about our record against them; it's about ending our season, ending our careers in the right way.”
Some other facts about this matchup of archrivals, which has been known since the 1940s simply as The Game:
Yale holds 66-59-8 advantage in the rivalry, which began in 1875. But Harvard has won 14 of the last 16 meetings and has been better when a title is up for grabs. The Crimson are 16-12-1 when at least one team has a chance to secure a share of the league crown.
HOME FIELD DISADVANTAGE
Yale has not beaten Harvard in New Haven since 1999 and is 30-31-3 against the Crimson at home.
Yale quarterback Kurt Rawlings credits last year's win over Harvard with providing the team the confidence it needed this season. He said the team bonded in the offseason with 4 a.m. workouts and has been a much more cohesive unit that last year's group.
“That's where we should have been every game last season,” he said. “I was kind of angry that we let a lot of games slip last year. This year we're focusing more on taking care of business.”
SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY
Yale's freshman running back, Zane Dudek, came into the season third on the Bulldogs’ depth chart. Injuries helped put him on the field and he has done the rest, rushing for 1,069 yards on just 34 carries. That's an average of 7.9 yards a rush. He is the third player in league history to win the rookie of the week award five times.
ROOTING FOR HARVARD
Columbia (7-2, 4-2) and Dartmouth (7-2, 4-2) will be Harvard fans this week. Each could share the Ivy League title with a win and a Bulldogs loss on Saturday. Columbia hosts Brown (2-7, 0-6). Dartmouth hosts Princeton (5-4, 2-4).