Yale Running Game vs. Harvard Run Defense
Yes, Rob Carr ’05 and David Knox ’06 are still threats to go the distance every time they touch the ball. And quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 is — particularly with Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hurt — the best runner at his position.
The Elis running offense’s early success has teams stacking against it — and stopping it. The last five games have produced the Bulldogs’ four lowest ground outputs of the season. But Yale is still the second best running team in the Ivy League but teams have realized that and are hedging against the run.
Harvard boasts an impressive run defense that has allowed just 111 rushing yards per contest. Led by potential four-time first-team All-Ivy linebacker Dante Balestracci, the Crimson will not allow the Elis to grind out a victory on the ground. But if Carr or Knox gets loose, it does not matter who they are playing against — no one will catch them.
Yale Passing Game vs. Harvard Pass Defense
You might think a team that has served as the Ivy League sack exchange would have a good pass defense. Nothing could be further from the “veritas.” They are second to last in Div. I-AA.
This week the Cantabs are up against the best passing offense — both in terms of total output and efficiency — that the Ivies have to offer.
Cowan is the leading candidate for the first-team All-Ivy. He is second in Div. I-AA in total offense — more than 50 yards per game ahead of the next best Ivy player. Plus, he has a tremendous corps of pass-catchers to throw to. Nate Lawrie ’04 is second in the Ivy League in receptions per game. Benigno has scored eight touchdowns, and Plumb seven. While the Elis will be without P.J. Collins ’04 for the second straight game, Chandler Henley ’06 has come on as an acrobatic play-maker. Last week, Henley made the leaping grab that sent the Princeton game into overtime.
Harvard Running Game vs. Yale Run Defense
Though Yale’s run defense is not particularly poor, Harvard’s run offense is particularly good. In fact, it is the best in the league. With Fitzpatrick returning to add an extra ground threat, it is very hard not to see the Crimson gaining over 200 yards. Freshman Clifton Dawson is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and is third in the league in yards per game. Even wide receiver Brian Edwards is a threat to run — as he done five times this season with considerable success.
To make matters worse for the Bulldogs, they will be without leading tackler Ken Estrera ’04. Though Cole Harris ’05 is a more than capable replacement, Estrera, who was injured in the Princeton game, is an All-Ivy caliber linebacker.
Harvard Passing Game vs. Yale Pass Defense
Harvard essentially gave up the passing game when Garret Schires was forced to replace Fitzpatrick. Even with the Cantab savior from last year’s Game, the Crimson passing attack will still be at less than full strength. Rodney Byrnes, who is second on the team in receiving yards despite playing in only six games, will not play, nor will the Crimson’s No. 4 wideout James Harvey.
But the Eli pass defense is hurting as well. Yale’s best cover-man, Greg Owens ’04, has missed the last three games due to injury. Though he is listed as the Bulldog starter, it seems unlikely that Owens will play, and even more unlikely that he will be at his best even if he does play. To reduce the Eli defensive back rotation still further, nickelback Fred Jelks ’05 has also had injury trouble.
The loss of defensive end Brady Clegg ’04 makes it even tougher for Yale to get pressure on the quarterback — something it has had trouble doing all season. Fortunately, Brandon Dyches ’06 has had a terrific season and appears ready to step in. Still, the pressure must be better than Yale’s anemic total of 14 sacks thus far.
As always, Yale’s return game is the better of the two teams. Knox and Carr have led the Elis to the only 20+ yard kickoff return average in the Ivy League. Though Collins, who has the 3rd best punt return average in the league, is out, Henley is certainly athletic enough to be a capable replacement.
Harvard has no such luck with their returns. They are 119th out of 121 Div. I-AA teams in kickoff returns and in the bottom half of the league for punt returns.
For the first time in the Ivy season, Yale will face a team that has a worse net punting average than the Elis. The Eli kickoff coverage has gradually gotten better after some disastrous performances early in the season. They shouldn’t have anything to worry about against Harvard anyway.
Bulldog kicker John Troost ’05 is seventh in the Div. I-AA in field goals per game. Harvard has used two kickers this season — neither has distinguished himself and both have made less than 35% of their attempts.
After starting the season 6-0, Harvard has dropped its last three contests. If they are not fired up now that Fitzpatrick is back behind center, it would be shocking. But this is The Game — one that is for an HYP championship no less — and both teams always go all out.
It is a cliche to boil a game down to two players, but when those two players are quarterbacks like Fitzpatrick and Cowan, it is pretty plausible. Fitzpatrick essentially won last year’s Game. If the Elis cannot contain Fitzpatrick and get a good push from their front line, Yale will be in trouble. On the other side of the ball, if the Yale passing game doesn’t get going, I don’t think the run game will be enough to win. But if Harvard’s blitzes leave Cowan lanes to escape for unplanned quarterback draws, it will keep the Cantabs on their heels.
While Yale decidedly has the best scoring offense, they have the worst scoring defense. Harvard is more statistically balanced — the Crimson is third in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. I place more faith in stats than most, but even I can see that they are far from the most important aspect of The Game. Yale has started poorly almost every game of the latter part of the season, after coming out on fire in the early part of the year. I think it will be tough for Yale to come back against a Harvard team with Fitzpatrick and Dawson as running options. But I think the Elis will reverse that trend and punch a touchdown in on their first possession — and not look back.
— Alex Hetherington