Rarely have I had to do anything this distasteful in my life. Nothing annoys me more than admitting that Harvard must be the clear favorite in Saturday’s Game.
These are the same people who are afraid of kegs and have made tailgating as formal and rigorous a process as adopting a child. Biased or not, it is clear that nothing sucks as much as Harvard. And yet somehow the Cantabs have produced a football team that has bested Yale for three straight years.
But, strangely enough, the Elis are in perfect position to produce one of the most memorable editions of The Game.
Forty-four years ago, Harvard entered the 1968 game as a clear underdog to Yale’s 8-0 juggernaut. The Elis boasted three players who would be drafted at the end of the season, including running back Calvin Hill ’69 in the first round. Quarterback Brian Dowling ’69 and Hill are almost indisputably the greatest backfield ever to play for the Bulldogs.
Though Harvard was also undefeated, the Elis were a nationally ranked powerhouse, whose season was essentially ruined by the infamous 29-29 tie (ranked amongst the top 10 college football games ever by numerous pundits) that gave both teams a share of the Ivy Championship.
Yale can accomplish a similar coup by marring Harvard’s undefeated season and their bid for their first 10-win autumn since 1906. Nothing could be sweeter than capturing the Eli’s first HYP Championship since 1999, and doing it at the expense of Harvard’s near-perfect season.
Harvard Rush v. Yale
Regardless of how enjoyable it would be to beat the Cantabs, running back Clifton Dawson will make sure it is not easy.
Dawson has shattered almost every Ivy League record for underclassmen. Against Yale he needs only to match his average game to become the first player in league history to rush for 2,500 yards prior to his junior campaign. Dawson almost never fumbles, and has found the end-zone four more times than the next closest Ancient Eight gridder.
To make matters worse, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the tenth leading rusher in the League. Fitzpatrick averages over forty yards per game on the ground and has scored four rushing touchdowns. While Yale kept the athletic signal-caller in check last year, he turned the game around with repeated, successful scrambling after replacing Neil Rose in the 2002 Game. Simply put: Harvard is the best rushing team in the league, by more than 50 yards per game.
Harvard Pass v. Yale
Fitzpatrick is a terrific quarterback — the race for Ivy League Player of the Year is almost certainly between him and Dawson — but it will be a long time before a Cantab quarterback can throw to someone like Carl Morris.
Receivers Corey Mazza and Brian Edwards are both having good years, but neither should be a first-team All-Ivy selection. Edwards made the second-team last season.
The key in the passing game is to make sure that well-covered plays don’t turn into scrambles by Fitzpatrick. A heavy-dose of blitzing and potential All-Ivy defensive linemen Brandon Dyches ’06 and Donnie Smith ’05 could change the game by ringing Fitzpatrick’s bell a couple of times. Following stalwart Bryant Dieffenbacher’s ’05 injury, Brandt Hollander ’08, Andrew Ralph ’06, Nick Campbell ’05, Willie Cruz ’05 and Tim Barrett ’05 have all stepped up and formed a more than capable defensive line.
Yale Rush v. Harvard
Yale has its own onetime unanimous first-team All-Ivy running back. Rob Carr ’05 has been nothing short of nasty this season, both on the ground and on kickoff returns.
The Cantabs are just below the middle of the pack in terms of rushing defense. Linebacker Matt Thomas is putting up big numbers: he is in the top ten in tackles and just of the lead in both sacks and tackles for a loss.
Yale Pass v. Harvard
Yale is the third best passing offense in the Ancient Eight, but Harvard has the third best passing defense and the best pass defense efficiency.
If the Yale offensive line can provide Alvin Cowan ’05 with time, then the Elis should be able to exploit their talent at the wide receiver position. Ralph Plumb ’05, who now owns just about every Yale career receiving record, is near the top of the league in receptions and receiving yardage. Chandler Henley ’06 is not far behind.
Harvard’s defense has produced more sacks than any unit except Brown this season.
I want a repeat of 44 years ago, except this time the Elis can play spoiler to Harvard’s perfect season. The Cantabs are still the favorite, but this is The Game — and as Carm Cozza and his great 1968 team learned, anything can happen, especially with a team as talented as the one playing on the good side of this contest.
Harvard 31, Yale 20