It was supposed to be a battle between professor and students. From the begging it was clear that the students were in over their heads. When it was over the prof, Yale head coach Tony Reno, said the right things but his two proteges, Fordham head coach Joe Conlin and Fordham defensive coordinator Paul Rice, had both received failing grades. Prior to grabbing the reigns Fordham, Conlin had been Reno’s offensive coordinator. Together they helped guide Yale to a Top-25 ranking in 2017 while leading the Bulldogs to their first outright Ivy League title since 1980. Rice was the special teams coordinator on that team and came over with Conlin where he was put in charge of the defense. After a rough 2018 that defense looked like it had turned a corner this year. Then came the New Haven reunion.
Not that it looked like much of a reunion from inside the cavernous Yale Bowl on Saturday. In fact, from the host’s first drive of the game it seemed as if Rice had never met Reno, or seen a Reno offense before. In fact, it was almost as if Rice had never seen any offense before. On a perfectly sunny but cool afternoon for football the Bulldogs put on a perfect drive in marching 82 yards in five minutes for their first of many touchdowns.
Senior signal caller Kurt Rawlings opened by completing two short passes and setting up an early third and short. Senior running back Alan Lamar picked up the first but Rawlings was in for a surprise on the next play while attempting to return to the air. He was crunched in the backfield by Fordham juniors Jonathan Coste and Ellis Taylor as the Rams appeared to add to their league-leading sack total. That play was nullified however as Taylor was called for a questionable face mask penalty. 15 yards later the Bulldogs returned to the ground. Lamar and his sidekick, junior Zane Dudek, took over from there while bullying through Fordham’s front seven until reaching pay dirt.
Fordham sophomore Fotis Kokosioulis responded by taking the kickoff to midfield where after a Kokosioulis reception and a pair of Zach Davis runs the Rams settled for a 48 yard field goal attempt. A curious call considering that as good as junior Andrew Mevis has been as a punter, his place kicking career has only been mediocre. That kick was blocked and Yale went back to work. Once again Coste found his way to Rawlings and this time the sack counted. Rawlings brushed himself off however and went deep for 41 yards on the very next play. Suddenly it was clear that if the Yale could hold back Fordham’s front four, they’d have no problems with the Rams secondary. Although that drive stalled as Rawlings missed on another deep throw and saw a short pass dropped by Dudek, the Bulldogs settled for a field goal and the early 10-0 lead. More importantly, it became clear that the Fordham secondary was in for a full day of hurt.
Yale’s secondary wasn’t much better as Fordham sophomore hurler Tim DeMorat answered by immediately going deep himself. Once again it was Kokosioulis on the other end as the two hooked up for a 70 yard bomb to get within 10-7. Fordham would get no closer. From then on Yale used Lamar runs to set up Rawlings deep threats as the Bulldogs went on four straight touchdown drives. In total the four drives ate up 210 yards on just 14 plays as everyone aside from Coste and sophomore linebacker Ryan Greenhagen (the Patriot League’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week for three straight weeks now) looked completely clueless. As did the coaches who could never sense when Lamar was going to open them up the middle or when Rawlings was going to sit back and wait to go deep. In short, Yale celebrated Christmas early in lighting up the Ram secondary like the Rockefeller Center tree. And then doing it again, and again, and again, and again until taking a 38-10 lead.
Fordham tried responding in similar fashion but that balanced run-pass attack took a hit after a Davis fumble. The junior never touched the ball again. Worse, the DeMortat-Kokosioulis connection was nullified by a Yale pass rush that got into the Ram backfield as easily as Fordham’s front four had against previous opponents. To be more exact, as easily as previous opponents had gotten into Fordham’s backfield. Although looking sharper and throwing with more zip than in those earlier contests, once again DeMorat was failed by his offensive line. Once again he was relegated into the checkdown offense. Once again the short game got nowhere as the only touchdown came on a deflected pick-six to give Yale a 45-10 lead just midway into the second quarter.
Anything afterwards was simply cosmetic as by then the embarrassment of a game was long over. At that point in the contest however Rawlings had already thrown for a mind-numbing 261 yards on just 12 attempts. Not 12 completions, 12 attempts! Lamar added 47 yards on just 9 carries. Again, this was just midway into the second stanza. Thankfully Reno called off the dogs while Fordham was allowed to regroup enough to make the final look much closer than it ever felt. Even so the reunion was nothing short of a complete and total bust for Conlin and Rice. Ironically, aside from their titles of head coach and defensive coordinator, the two are also specifically in charge of the offensive line and secondary. No units played worse and it could easily be argued that with just some time to throw DeMorat could have engaged in an offensive shootout. Just as it could easily be argued that with simply some coverage in the secondary, the front four could have continued in adding to their sack total.
Instead, Fordham had their holes exposed like never before. It was Reno’s ultimate teaching lesson. At least the students left New Haven knowing exactly what to adjust and look out for as Fordham starts their conference schedule next week at Georgetown. Thankfully for the Rams, the Patriot League is weaker than ever before. With some offensive line and secondary improvements, anything, even a league title, is still possible for these Rams. But while the ultimate goal can still be realized there’s no denying that up against Reno, Conlin and Rice both failed mightily.