Know Your Enemy: No. 1 Penn State Men’s Lacrosse vs. No. 5 Yale In Final Four
Welcome to the biggest stage in college lacrosse, Penn State.
The top-ranked Nittany Lions will take on No. 5 Yale at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. Penn State is flying high after scoring more than 20 goals in each of its first two NCAA tournament games, but the team will take on a familiar foe on Saturday.
Yale was the first and only side to beat Jeff Tambroni’s squad this year, doing so 14-13 on February 23. However, Penn State has rattled off 13 consecutive wins to establish itself as the odds-on favorite to win it all this weekend.
How Yale Got Here
Yale (14-3, 5-1 Ivy League) followed up its national championship last year with another excellent 2019 season. The Bulldogs have only fallen to two opponents — Villanova and Penn — this season, but the Quakers beat Yale twice.
Penn won its second meeting against the Bulldogs in the Ivy League Championship game, which led to Yale earning an at-large bid for the Big Dance. The Bulldogs and Quakers met again in the Elite Eight after Yale beat Georgetown 19-16 in the first round, and Yale pulled out a 19-18 win to earn a spot in Philadelphia this weekend.
Head coach Andy Shay’s team advanced to the Final Four in large part thanks to its elite attack. Yale’s offense ranks second in the nation, but the team’s defense has conceded 34 goals so far in the NCAA tournament.
With three 40-goal scorers and six other players with more than 12 goals, Yale’s attack is a well-balanced machine. It’s second only to Penn State with an average of 15.65 goals per game this season.
Jackson Morrill is the heartbeat of the Bulldogs’ attack. His 45 assists are the most on the team by a wide margin, but he’s also chipped in 43 goals to rank second among Yale attackmen. Penn State’s defense will have its hands full in dealing with Morrill, who torched the Nittany Lions with two goals and five assists on February 23.
Matt Gaudet is perhaps Yale’s most consistent sharpshooter with a team-leading 47 goals. The sharpshooter has been held to one goal or fewer just three times in 2019, but he hasn’t scored more than five times in a game this season.
Freshman Matt Brandau stepped into Yale’s lineup this season and shined. He’s found the back of the net 40 times and ranks second on the team with 21 assists. Penn State’s defense may understandably shift its focus on Morrill and Gaudet, but Brandau proved he’s just as lethal as Yale’s top two scoring threats.
Players like Jack Tigh, John Daniggelis, and Brendan Rooney all provide plenty of depth, and they help Yale’s man-up unit as well. The Bulldogs’ .408 percentage with the man advantage isn’t elite, but it gets the job done enough to warrant concern for the Nittany Lions.
Defense & Goalkeeping
Yale’s defense is firmly in the middle of the pack (No. 33 in the nation) this year by conceding 10.95 goals per game, but it’s struggled immensely throughout the NCAA tournament.
Georgetown and Penn couldn’t find ways to beat the Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament, but they both peppered the Yale defense with a combined 34 goals. That doesn’t bode well for a team that’s about to face the best offense college lacrosse has to offer.
Yale’s defense is anchored by a pair of juniors — Will Weitzel and Aidan Hynes — along with sophomore Chris Fake (Yup, that’s his real last name.). Sophomore Jack Starr has started every game in goal for the Bulldogs, but he’s struggled through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs’ biggest strength comes in the faceoff X. Junior TD Ierlan is Yale’s ace on draws with an inconceivable .760 winning percentage in the X. Gerard Arceri and Penn State’s faceoff unit was dominated in the X in their last meeting against Yale, finishing the game with a dismal 6-for-31 win rate.
One thing is certain here: We’re going to see a hell of a lacrosse game at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.
Revenge will be on Penn State’s minds throughout the contest, but one player in particular will want to get back at the Bulldogs more than anyone. Gerard Arceri will be on a mission to improve on his brutal performance against Yale on February 23 (4-for-23).
If Arceri can get the ball to Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe, who power this lethal offense, the Nittany Lions will be able to outscore Yale. I think the faceoff man will do just enough to help his team pick up a 17-15 victory at the Linc.
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