September 24, 2007

Polhemus, Bulldogs Demonstrate Their Strength to the Red

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On second and 11, the Red brought the blitz. Trailing 13-0 with about five minutes left in the first half, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 was trying to push the action. The Yale offensive line, which had played nearly flawless football to that point, relented as Cornell defensive linemen muscled their way around, through and over them.
Yale senior quarterback Matt Polhemus took his eyes off the receivers as several arms wrapped around him. Polhemus deftly spun out of out of a sure sack, sprinted our right and picked up 10 yards. The Bulldogs got the first down on the next play, and split the uprights with a field goal several plays later.
Although it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, it was missed tackles like this that plagued the Red in its 51-12 loss.
“I thought [Polhemus] was pretty good last year,” Knowles said. “He is a big, strong guy. We struggled to tackle him and he made a lot of yards running the football. He can be real dangerous as a runner. He is a real, physical guy, kind of fits in with the rest of their team.”
Knowles wasn’t referring simply to backfield tackling. On another play, Yale sent four receivers deep. Polhemus went through his progression and, unable to find anything, took off up the middle of a parted line. With all his receivers downfield and no blockers, Polhemus slipped one, two, then three tacklers as they dove for his feet before he was pulled down 27 yards later.
According to junior safety Gus Krimm, the problem started with a simple lack of pressure, allowing Polhemus to decide what he wanted to do.
“We just really didn’t get as much pressure on him as we would have liked in the pocket, which gave him more time,” Krimm said. “When he did decide to scramble around a little bit, he is a pretty big quarterback, and … he can move pretty well and we had trouble getting pressure on him as quick after the snap as we would of liked, which would have caught him off guard.”
And while Polhemus’ 66 yards on the ground (on seven carries) were only a drop in the bucket of Yale’s 293 rushing yards (on 51 carries), the inability to drag him down once he did leave the pocket exposed another problem for the Red.
“When Matt pulled it down to run it, you saw kids downfield blocking, and just going out for people,” said Yale offensive coordinator Keith Clark.
Each player and coach who spoke after the game pointed to Yale’s tough play, size, physicality and energy level as an explanation for their blocking.
“I thought our effort level throughout the game was unbelievable,” Clark said. “You never saw a kid take a play off.”
“We just played hard every play, things were clicking … guys knew their assignments, made some adjustments, and coach did a great job,” Polhemus said. “… Overall team effort was awesome.”
Polhemus wasn’t the only recepient of strong downfield blocking. Yale senior back Mike McLeod, who sat out most of the fourth quarter, reeled off 151 yards on 31 carries — including over 100 by halftime. On a 35-yard run McLeod took the handoff and bounced it out to the left side. A blitzing Red defender was pushed to the outside, while the Cornell linemen were immediately taken down. The two receivers lined up on the left side went out 10 yards, met up with their cover corners and tangled them up while McLeod danced his way down the field with barely any potential tacklers to elude.
“With the schemes we are putting in, I feel like every time we get the ball, we have the opportunity for a big play,” McLeod said. “… All I have to do is make one person miss and we are off to the races.”
Unfortunately for the Red on Saturday, that really did seem to be the case regardless of who was carrying the ball. When McLeod came out in the fourth quarter, sophomores Jordan Farrell and Ricardo Galvez, rushed for a touchdown each — Galavez from 35 yards out, and Farrell from 28 yards out.
Galavez ran right up the gut through a clump of people at the line and then outraced four Cornell defenders to the goal line. Farrell brushed off a tackler behind the line of scrimmage, split two duos of Yale blockers and Cornell defenders a few yards past the line and then accelerated for the score.
“I think our players did a tremendous job,” Clark said. “We executed just about everything we set out to do.”