Harvard football enters the staging area today, two straight games against non-Ivy opponents in which the Crimson will attempt to hone its attack, polish its defense and stay healthy. Oh, yeah--and win.
Coming off a satisfying 26-6 opening day victory over Columbia, the Crimson will meet Holy Cross today (Harvard Stadium, 1:30 p.m.) with essentially the same mission as last Saturday: to prove itself as a genuine contender for the Ivy League crown.
While the Crusaders unquestionably will field a better team than Columbia, Harvard rates as a solid favorite to win its first two games for the first time since 1976, also the last season the Crimson had a winning record.
Holy Cross stands at 1-1 this season, after a 21-14 opening victory over Rhode Island and a 28-7 loss to Army (Harvard's adversary next week). The Crusaders boast a top freshman running back in Mark Covington (119 yds. against URI), and a pair of mediocre quarterbacks, juniors Dave Boisture and Dave Murphy.
Holy Cross's strength lies with its bruising defense led by 245-lb. defensive tackle Bob Roncarati. "They have their defense pulled together pretty well," offensive backfield coach Larry Glueck says. "If we can move the ball, that'll show something."
And that is Brian Buckley's task. The senior quarterback, who completed 11 of 20 passes for 137 yds. and two touchdowns against the Lions, has to do more than just complete passes today. Buckley has to take charge. When the Crimson begins playing the Ivy League heavies, he will not be able to afford the two delay of game and three illegal procedure penalties he allowed Saturday.
Buckley's auspicious debut against Columbia came courtesy of the stirring offensive presence of Ron Cuccia, the sophomore split end, who caught six passes.
And while head coach Joe Restic warns that the Crusader defense is "very big and very physical," he said that its set-up is "made to order for us." Sending Cuccia in motion, Restic said, will limit Holy Cross's ability to double-cover Cuccia or adjust to a Buckley roll-out.
For the first time, Restic will have a fully healthy backfield to control the ball. Senior Paul Connors, Harvard's second leading rusher last fall, will return to the backfield, though not in a starting role. Because of a pair of groin pulls, Connors didn't practice at all until this week, and Restic will start Paul Scheper again at halfback. "Paul (Connors) is not yet where he has to be," the coach said yesterday.
Also, junior fullback Jim Callinan, hero of The Game last year and semipermanent invalid, will play after sitting out most of the Columbia game with a badly bruised shin. Callinan and Connors, both backs of considerable--if mostly unrealized--talent should join Tom Beatrice in the backfield and give Buckley every opportunity to take complete control. Of the injured list, Restic said, "We're better off than we were a week ago."
The Harvard defense, slowly gaining a reputation as among the best in the Ivy League, is unchanged from last week. Everyone is healthy, though standout captain defensive end Chuck Durst missed a few practices. As senior linebacker Bob Woolway said yesterday, "I personally didn't think Columbia was that good (a gentlemanly understatement). We should be able to tell better how good we are this week."
The entire Ivy League will be testing itself against a variety of outside opponents for the next two weeks. All look to improve--and maybe win--but not at the expense of paralyzing themselves (read: injuries) for the championship chase ahead. Harvard appears ready and healthy at the start of its annual interlude; the Crusaders seem like the right kind of test to fill the space between the Ivies.
Despite the risk to my thus far perfect prediction record, I now move to this week's meaty schedule.
HARVARD 24, HOLY CROSS 10--With a healthy offense and a blossoming quarterback-receiver romance between Buckley and Cuccia, Harvard should dominate. Mistakes--especially the penalties that plagued the Crimson last week--could give the Crusaders a chance.