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UConn football opponent preview: Yale

Coming this October: A battle between two Connecticut schools and former longtime rivals that sat out the 2020 season.

Yale University vs Harvard University Set Number: X163077 TK1

A week after taking on rival UMass on the road, UConn football returns to East Hartford to take on another longtime local rival in Yale. Before the series stopped in 1998, UConn and Yale faced off 49 times, mostly at the historic Yale Bowl with the exception of one game at Memorial Stadium in Storrs in 1992. The Elis hold a 32-17 advantage all-time, including winning 16-straight games from 1948-1964.

While the original UConn-Yale series was known for occasionally good competition and legendary tailgates, the Huskies’ move to the FBS level at the turn of the millennium put it on ice. Now that UConn as an independent has a bit more schedule freedom, here’s hoping this rivalry continues on for the foreseeable future.

Head Coach & Recent History

Tony Reno is the head coach for Yale, taking over to become the 34th head coach in program history ahead of the 2013 season. Reno is 47-33 in his seven seasons and is 3-4 against Harvard, the Bulldogs’ biggest rival. Reno’s 47 wins rank sixth all-time in Yale history, and he’s led the Bulldogs to Ivy League championships in 2017 and 2019.

2020 Season

The Ivy League elected not to play football in 2020 due to concerns over COVID-19. This meant that Yale did not play football last season, and “The Game” — Yale’s historic rivalry with Harvard — was not played for the first time since 1944. Yale went 9-1 in 2019, with notable out-of-conference wins against Holy Cross and Richmond. The Bulldogs also defeated Harvard 50-43 in double overtime.

2021 Outlook

It’s nearly impossible to get a glimpse of what Yale’s 2021 season will look like. When the Ivy League canceled football last year, many sophomores took a leave of absence to preserve Ivy League eligibility, as the Ivies do not adhere to standard NCAA eligibility rules and Yale only allowed freshmen, juniors, and seniors on campus last year. This meant that barely 40 percent of the football team was actually enrolled as of last fall — and some of last year’s senior class took a leave of absence in the spring to be able to play this fall.

With the possibility of so many players coming back, it's fair to assume Yale should at least be in the mix for another Ivy League title this season. That’s mainly due to the return of running back Zane Dudek, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry and ran for 754 yards in 2019. Dudek bounced back from an injury-riddled 2018 season to re-establish himself as one of the best talents in the Ivy League, and it’s fair to say that while the rest of the offense has to deal with losing star quarterback Kurt Rawlings and wide receivers JP Shohfi and Reed Klubnik, Dudek’s return should be enough to keep the Elis in just about every matchup.

With Rawlings gone, Griffin O’Connor, the 2018 Ivy League Rookie of Year, likely will take over under center. O’Connor played occasionally to spell Rawlings in 2019 but stepped up in a big way when Rawlings suffered a season-ending injury a year prior, throwing for over 1,200 yards with eight touchdowns. Aside from Dudek, wide receivers Mason Tipton and Jay Brunelle, a transfer from Notre Dame, should give O’Connor some solid options.

Prediction

Much like UConn, Yale probably will have to shake off some rust early in the season after not playing in 2020. But this should still be a talented team, and one that will almost certainly put up a bigger fight than Holy Cross, UMass, and maybe even Vanderbilt. The running back showdown of Dudek versus Kevin Mensah should be fun to watch, and there’s a good chance that Dudek puts up the best individual numbers of any back that UConn faces. This game will probably uncomfortably close, and while it wouldn't be shocking if Yale pulled out their first win in this series since 1994, the Huskies’ strength and athleticism should be enough to get by. UConn 35, Yale 31