The Crimson enters The Game with a strong passing offense. Led by quarterback Joe Viviano, who has thrown for 1,832 yards and 14 of the team’s 16 passing touchdowns this year, Harvard has gained more than 247 yards per game through the air this season, good for second in the Ivy League. Two players, receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley and running back Anthony Firkser, are responsible for the majority of the Harvard yardage, both averaging over four receptions and 70 receiving yards per game. Firkser has also accumulated nearly half of the Crimson’s receiving touchdowns with seven on the season.
Yale’s passing game averages just 164.3 yards per game, the worst mark in the conference and down more than 100 yards per game from last year. The Elis have struggled to establish a set play-caller and utilized three different starting quarterbacks since the beginning of the season. Kurt Rawlings ’20 is the current starter, having taken over for Tre Moore ’19 in the Bulldogs’ win over Columbia. Rawlings is completing 48 percent of his passes and has thrown three touchdowns with as many interceptions. In his two games, he has averaged 208 yards through the air but has also been sacked nine times.
Harvard’s passing defense is above average in the Ivy League, conceding 232.8 yards per game. The unit excels at putting pressure on the quarterback: Its 25 sacks top the league. The Crimson also successfully force turnovers — the unit has 11 interceptions through nine games. Defensive end DJ Bailey has wreaked havoc on the line this season, garnering six sacks and forcing two fumbles, while safety Tanner Lee has four interceptions for Harvard.
Meanwhile, the Elis’ passing defense is giving up a league-worst 296.3 passing yards per game. Yale has largely been unable to stop opposing teams from scoring through the air, conceding 27 passing touchdowns in nine games. However, they have been apt at attacking the quarterback, racking up 15 sacks, nine of which have come from the defensive end duo of Kyle Mullen ’19 and Marty Moesta ’17. The Bulldogs are averaging just under one interception per game, with four of their seven picks coming courtesy of safety Hayden Carlson ’18, who is also the squad’s leading tackler.
Both Harvard and Yale have relatively strong rushing games, ranking third and fourth in the conference in yards per game, respectively. The Crimson has rushed for 150 yards per game on the ground and accumulated 16 rushing scores on the year. The team has put more of its workload on the running game, rushing the ball nearly 100 times more than passing it. While Viviano has actually attempted the most rushes of anyone on Harvard’s team — the quarterback has also scored five touchdowns himself — running back Semar Smith leads the team with 463 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The team does struggle to protect the ball while running, however, and has coughed up a combined 17 fumbles this season.
The Elis are averaging nearly 140 yards on the ground per game and have scored almost twice as many rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns. Yale’s focus has been split evenly between air and ground, as its rushing attempts only slightly edge its throwing attempts. Four Bulldog running backs have taken touches this year, though Alan Lamar ’20 is by far the leading rusher at an even 500 yards. Both Lamar and two-way player Dale Harris ’17, who has also seen time at cornerback, have four touchdowns and average 4.5 yards per attempt. Yale does hold the advantage in yards per rushing attempt, averaging 3.8 to Harvard’s 3.4 yards.
In terms of rushing yardage, Harvard’s defense has allowed the second fewest yards per game in the conference compared to Yale’s third highest allowance in the Ancient Eight. The Crimson has held its opponents to an average of under 100 yards per game while only conceding 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. Harvard has also limited its opponents’ rushing scores, giving up only seven touchdowns on the ground while also recovering six of its 11 forced fumbles.
Yale has thus far held its opponents to 150.9 yards per game on a 3.8 yard per attempt average, which is also third-most allowed in the Ivy League. As a team, the Bulldogs have surrendered 14 rushing touchdowns, twice as many as the Crimson. The Elis, like Harvard, have recovered six fumbles this season on nine opportunities.
The two teams are on almost-equal footing in terms of special teams. Both squads’ kickers are performing very well this year: The Crimson has converted nine of its field goal attempts this season, and primary kicker Jack Mcintyre is 8–9 with a long kick of 37 yards. McIntyre has also made 21 of 23 extra-point attempts.
For the Bulldogs, Alex Galland ’19, the main kicker and punter, has made eight out of his 10 field goal attempts this year. Galland’s longest field goal was 38 yards, and the sophomore has converted 17 of 18 extra-point attempts.
Harvard and Yale also share similar punting numbers. Crimson punter Zach Schmid has booted the ball 53 times this season, averaging 37.2 yards per punt and placing 25 of them within the 20-yard line. Meanwhile, for the Elis, Galland has taken 46 punts for an average of 35.6 yards.
The Crimson’s kick return unit has averaged 16.4 yards per return in 2016 and its punt return team has been good for 7.2 yards per trip. Harvard has not scored a returning touchdown, but has allowed one punt-return score. For the Bulldogs, Lamar is averaging 20.8 yards per kick return while the team as a whole is averaging 16.8 yards. Defensive back Jason Alessi ’18, who has also punted twice for a 36.1 yard average, has averaged 10.8 yards per punt return and also scored an 82-yard touchdown on a return against Lehigh.
Harvard’s coaching staff is led by head coach Tim Murphy, who is in his 23rd year at the helm for the Crimson. Murphy is the all-time winningest coach in Harvard’s history, and has accumulated a 163–64 record since taking over in 1994. Murphy’s win total is second-most for an Ivy League coach all-time, and his 115 Ivy League wins also rank second all-time. Under Murphy, Harvard has won the Ivy championship nine times, including each of the past three years.
Yale head coach Tony Reno has been at the program’s helm since 2012. Prior to taking the head coach position, Reno served as an assistant coach for Yale from 2003 to 2008 and for Harvard from 2009 to 2011. Since beginning his tenure as head coach, Reno has guided the Bulldogs to a 23–26 record, including an 8–2 record in 2014. After leading the team to two straight winning seasons, the Elis are in the midst of a down year, but the fifth-year coach could avoid tying his worst season record at Yale with a win against the Crimson.