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Yale has the most dominant offense in the Ivy League — by a large margin. Led by running back Tyler Varga’s ’15 league-leading 20 rushing touchdowns and 1,296 rushing yards, as well as quarterback Morgan Roberts’s ’16 Ivy-best 2,925 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes, the Bulldogs lead the conference with 43.0 points, 261.6 rushing yards and 325.7 passing yards per game. Harvard offense does not boast such gaudy numbers but is incredibly efficient. Crimson running back Paul Stanton, Jr. trails only Varga in yards, but actually bests him in yards per carry with an impressive seven yards per tote. Quarterback Conner Hempel trounced Princeton’s defense upon his return from a back injury, but he was terrible against Dartmouth after suffering a shoulder injury that ultimately caused him to miss two games. Yale’s impressive offensive line — which has allowed only seven sacks in nine games, best in the Ivy League — hopes to keep Roberts upright so he can thread passes to the top two receivers among the Ancient Eight, Deon Randall ’15 and Grant Wallace ’15. If it succeeds, and if the linemen can open holes for Varga to bulldoze opposing linebackers, the Bulldogs might find themselves a winner for the first time since 2006.
While Yale thrives on the attack, Harvard excels on the defensive end. The Crimson defense has not allowed its opponents to eclipse the century mark, giving up just 99 points over the entire season. Yale, on the other hand, gave up that number after just three games. Crimson senior defensive end Zach Hodges, who was recruited to Harvard by then-assistant coach Tony Reno, leads the Ivy League with 6.5 sacks, while senior linebacker Connor Sheehan had two pick-sixes against Columbia on Nov. 8. These defensive stars have helped Harvard’s defense hold opposing offenses to a conference-low 85.6 rushing yards per game and force 16 turnovers, eight interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. The Elis, by contrast, do not rely on veteran leadership on defense. Defensive back Foyesade Oluokun ’17 is fifth in the Ivies with 71 tackles, while defensive end Earl Chism ’18 leads the team with four sacks. No senior has intercepted a pass for the Bulldogs, though defensive backs Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 and Jason Alessi ’18 share the team lead with Oluokun with two picks apiece.
Yale has relied heavily on Kyle Cazzetta ’15 recently, as the kicker has gone eight for 10 over the last three weeks, though his season long of 41 yards leaves something to be desired. Cazzetta has attempted the most field goals in the Ivy League, and unlike his two Harvard counterparts, seniors Andrew Flesher and Ben Falloon, he has converted all 42 of his extra point attempts. Both teams have strong punting games, as Bryan Holmes ’17 is second in the conference with 39.2 yards per punt, while Harvard’s David Bicknell has pinned opposing offenses inside their own 20-yard line 12 times, with just three touchbacks. Neither team has done much in the return game, but Yale’s shaky return coverage needs to contain Crimson leading receiver/return man Andrew Fischer, who blistered past defenders in October on his way to 35.6 yards per kickoff return. Because the Bulldogs have allowed both a punt and kick return for a touchdown this season, and given Harvard’s overall talent, the Blue and White can ill afford to give up points on special teams.
The Game this year will likely decide whether Harvard head coach Tim Murphy or Yale’s Tony Reno deserves the Ivy League Coach of the Year, if such an award existed. Murphy’s accolades speak for themselves; he is finishing up his 21st season in Cambridge and has compiled a 146–62 record, including five unbeaten Ivy League seasons. As Murphy attempts to make it six, he squares off against Yale head honcho Reno, who served under Murphy from 2009–2011 as special teams coordinator and defensive secondary coach. Reno is having a phenomenal coaching year and has turned the Bulldogs program around since his 2–8 rookie campaign in 2012. To defeat a bitter rival, Reno will need to stick to his defensive roots and make certain his defensive backs turn their heads in coverage against an inconsistent Harvard passing attack. A win over Football Bowl Subdivision school Army was monumental, and a victory over Harvard could go a long way toward cementing Reno’s legacy.