Get an early lead
Last week, the Elis had another slow start against then last-place Princeton, trailing 21–3 early in the second half. Meanwhile, even though Harvard ended up losing what was basically an Ivy League title game to Penn, the contest was evenly played, evidenced by relatively balanced game statistics. Still, Harvard trailed 17–0 at half time and had to play catch-up the rest of the game, going to a passing game and abandoning the run as the Crimson tried to put points on the board as quickly as possible. As a result, the Crimson only ran for 115 yards compared to their season average of 180. Penn scored first on a 77-yard drive that included a 20-yard run and a 51-yard pass. This has proven to be the only winning formula against Harvard — get the lead early and force the Crimson to pass and play catch-up.
Quarterback rhythm, stop run
In lieu of trying to establish the running attack, which the Bulldogs have struggled to do throughout the season, Yale should pass early and frequently, with short, quick routes. If the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and protect quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, then the Elis can also counter with opportune run plays and screen passes. Harvard’s opponents have outgained the Crimson in the air by close to 30 yards per game, while Harvard has outrushed opponents by more than a 2 to 1 margin (1615 to 658 yards). It will be critical for the Bulldogs to halt Harvard’s running game early and prevent the Crimson from establishing long drives. Ultimately, the Eli defense needs to step up and figure out a way to stop the strong Harvard rushing game — if the Bulldogs allow the Crimson to run as they have most of the season, it could be a long afternoon for Yale.
Everything else (turnovers, crowd, defense, attitude)
This is The Game — Yale’s opportunity to finish the season on a high note. At this point, pride is the number one prize for the Bulldogs, who are tied for fourth place in the Ivy League. Turnovers, as always, could be critical in deciding the outcome Saturday. Last week, a blocked Harvard punt directly led to Penn’s second touchdown and a 14–0 lead for the Quakers. Similarly, the Elis committed four turnovers (including three interceptions) that spoiled an otherwise strong game by Witt last weekend against Princeton, inlcuding two early turnovers that helped to lift the Tigers to a 14–0 lead. The Yale defense has to make the big plays: stop third-down conversions, force turnovers, get some sacks and prevent high-yardage plays. Because this is The Game, there is more hype than for any contest this season. Winning would be a huge stepping-stone for next year for the Bulldogs and would give the team’s seniors a lasting memory from their college careers. Harvard is solidly favored, but in a rivalry game like this, anything can happen. The Bulldogs must take advantage of every opportunity to steal a victory from their biggest rival — and the overwhelming favorite.
For more Harvard-Yale coverage, visit yaledailynews.com/thegame.