For just about everybody in the stands tomorrow afternoon, the Harlow system of football is likely to be a new experience, and for those who care to make like experts, it's liable to be quite a surprise. In fact, aside from a number of Eastern colleges where the maestro's former assistants are in charge, the system is unlike anything else on the face of the earth.
Of course, Dick Harlow always used to claim that there was no such thing as a Harlow system; that his plays varied from year to year depending on the players and the opponents. But Harvard offenses have been pretty similar for the last ten years, and some of their characteristics have finally passed out of the class of military secrets.
A Harlow-coached eleven (and Henry Lamar is trying to make this year's team as close to that ideal as he can) generally lines up in what might be called a modified T, a modified single-wing, or a variation of the Minnesota single-wing, to which list the double-wing was added by the announcer of Saturday's game.
Disregarding all the conflicting nomenclature the picture is something like this. First, the line is unbalanced--the left tackle moving across the center to play between the right guard and the right tackle. In this right formation, the blocking back stands directly behind the inside (left) tackle, with the three running backs in a straight line about four yards behind the line of scrimmage. The tailback and the fullback are behind the left and right guards respectively, while the wingback is over the right end.
This makes a somewhat lopsided T, since there is no one to balance the tailback. It is very similar to the single-wing, differing only in that the wingback is on the line with the fullback and tailback, instead of being right up on the end's heels. The advantage in shifting him back is that on reverses from the single wing he has to run away from the line of scrimmage to get the ball before cutting upfield to gain yardage, whereas now he avoids this backward motion.
The fullback is the key man in this system, handling the ball more than any other player. On most plays from this hybrid T, the pigskin comes first to him, since he is the middle man in the line-up of backs, whereupon he turns and fakes or passes the ball to someone before going about his business, whatever it may happen to be.
For a man used to the orthodox set-up this job is quite a problem. For example, Joe Lauterbach was trained at Minnesota to pivot slightly to his right, make a "Wave-fake," and then get out of the neighborhood as fast as possible. Now he takes a full turn to the left and, with his back to the line, walts for the wing and/or the tail to go past before the play gets under way, with deliberateness rather than speed the key point in the take.
Before this starts to look too simple, it must be remembered that there are also fast-breaking plays with no spinning Involved, and that the ball frequently goes to the tailback. Also that the team runs from a straight single-wing and a kick formation at times.
In the line, although the formation is of the orthodox unbalanced variety, things happen a bit differently from the way they do in the orthodox method of line play. There is almost no straightaway blocking, with the Harlow system of angle blocks and mousetraps doing the job.
An angle, or position, block is designed to get the most thorough block from the least power by hitting the would-be tackler from some sort of an angle, and with any one of a dozen different types of blocks. None of this push-and-pull strength test stuff. The Harlow system is scientific.
The Harlow mousetraps are a little different from anybody else's. Usually, the idea is to let a man through, then get him out of the way and presto, a hole. But since the trap is probably the most efficient way to get a man out of a play, Harlow used it to hold even more than to produce holes, for which he relies on two-on-one set-ups.
This blocking business is really the key to the Harlow system, but there are few people besides the old master who even claim to know, let alone understand, the whole works. Dick said that he never looked at anything but the key block when watching a play, because that determined Its success, but unfortunately the ordinary mortal never knew what block this was, and just followed the ball carrier.
Harvard's offense generally looks like straight stuff--ordinary power plays from a slightly different formation, with very little razzle-dazzle. That takes too much practice, and it used to take a fullback a good three years to become a master of the faking on which the deception depends. But aside from this, there is at-least one trick that looks pretty spectacular even without much practice.
In the Penn game last year, Harlow unveiled the double-shift, a little stratagem that caught the Quakers offside exactly 17 times. And Swede Anderson called it twice last weekend, although the reforce refused to call the penalty the second time because he didn't know what was going on. It's really quite simple.
The team lines up in, say, a single wing to the right with line unbalanced to the right. Then people start wandering all over the place, with the fullback spinning just to make it a little more complicated, and to and behold, there is a single-wing to the left, with line likewise. In the meantime, the chances are 100 to 1 that one of the defensive linemen has crossed the line of scrimmage and then comes the horn and five yards. It never misses, although people swear up and down that it's not intended to draw offsides. Just happens to work out that way.