There will be more than just bragging rights at stake when Yale takes the field against Harvard in Cambridge this weekend in the 119th edition of The Game.
A Crimson win will give Harvard (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) at least the second-place slot in the Ancient Eight — and if the University of Pennsylvania loses to Cornell, the Cantabs could find themselves in a tie for the Ivy League crown. On the other hand, a Yale (6-3, 4-2) win Saturday would give the Elis their first H-Y-P title since 1999 and a tie with Harvard for second place in the Ivy League.
“They [the Elis] are a very good football team who are playing their best football of the year,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “They’ve got a lot of excellent, young skill kids. They’ve got a very physical, outstanding defense. They are, other than Penn, the best football team we think we’ll play this year.”
Harvard and Yale are coming off very different outings. Pennsylvania snapped Harvard’s 12-game win streak against Ivy League teams last Saturday, pounding the Cantabs 44-9 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Yale picked up its third straight win, rallying late to drop Princeton 7-3 at the Yale Bowl.
“Normally, I would say that [last week’s results] would affect us, but considering the rivalry, you can pretty much throw all previous experience out the window,” captain Jason Lange ’03 said. “They’re going to come ready to play and we’ll have to do the same. It will all come down to who can make the bigger plays and who can settle down and bring their best game.”
The Elis will have their hands full this weekend. Harvard wide receiver Carl Morris is second in the nation in receiving yards per game (131.33) and receptions per game (9.56). He is fifth in the country in total receiving yards (1182), despite playing two fewer games than most other receivers.
But despite Morris’s numbers, the Elis can take comfort in the fact that they have been able to contain a receiver of a similar caliber. Three weeks ago against Brown, the Yale secondary suppressed Chas Gessner, a Payton Award candidate who has numbers similar to Morris.
“The way we contain Morris is definitely going to be a similar thought process as the one we had against Gessner,” Yale free safety Barton Simmons ’04 said. “We always have to be aware of where he is and we’ll mix things up to make it harder for their quarterback to get him the ball. As long as we contain him and do not let him get those big plays, we’ll be in good shape.”
Harvard also has two veteran quarterbacks pulling the trigger for Morris. Senior Neil Rose, who has completed 120 of 177 passes for 1,375 yards this season, will start Saturday after being bothered for most of the season with a back injury. If Rose falters, sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has seen action in all nine of Harvard’s games this season, will be waiting in the wings.
Whether it’s Rose or Fitzpatrick on the field Saturday, both Cantabs pose threats on the ground as well in the air. Fitzpatrick currently leads the Crimson with 451 yards on 97 rushing attempts while Rose is sixth on the team with 104 yards on 39 carries.
“We’re really going to prepare for their quarterbacks to run the ball,” Yale linebacker Harry Flaster ’05 said. “Especially that Fitzpatrick — he’s a very good scrambler. That’s definitely going to be a concern for us is to keep him contained and not let him get any yards.”
Harvard’s quarterbacks will have to deal with Yale’s veteran defense. Last week against Princeton, Yale recorded six sacks on Tiger quarterback Matt Verbit. Yale has 35 sacks on the year for a total loss of 197 yards. Flaster leads the Ivy League with 9.5 sacks.
Despite records and win streaks, the Elis need no additional incentives to play hard this Saturday.
“It’s certainly a goal to finish the season 7-3 and go into the offseason with a four-game win streak, but its Harvard and you really don’t need any more motivation than that,” Simmons said. “Once that first whistle blows all that we’re going to be worried about will be beating Harvard.”