Snap Goes the Wishbone
Entering Saturday's Harvard-Northeastern gridiron showdown, Crimson football Coach Joe Restic knew he had to solve an age-old mystery: how to break the Wishbone.
Pull too hard in the wrong place, and the 'bone snaps in the wrong way.
On each of their first two possessions, the Huskies came away with the bigger half of the 'bone. Three points the first drive, seven points the next.
Halfback around left end for 12 yards, fullback off right tackle for 23 yards. Snap.
Quarterback keeper off right tackle for five yards, quarterback option past left guard for 10 yards. Snap. Bang.
That's Wishbone football. Run right, run left, run straight up the midddle. Pitch right, option left, fake up the middle. Throw in an occasional pass play to keep the defense honest, but mainly concentrate on hiding the pigskin.
"You take a look, see that they're going to do, how they're going to operate and they have 10 points on the board [already]," Restic said after Harvard's 27-24 triumph at the Stadium.
When run flawlessly, the Wishbone is nearly impossible to defend. Confused linemen, linebackers and backfielders pursue bogus ball toters while the actual carrier breaks away into the open field.
Baffled cameramen aim their lenses right, left, then right again, while radio and TV announcers try in vain to identify the correct ball handler.
Before Saturday, Northeastern had made a gorgeous living on this type of football.
In their first two games of the season, the Huskies cashed in on the Wishbone for 622 yards and two wins. For Northeastern, success comes by trickery.
Indeed, the Crimson "D" was tricked and deceived for the first five minutes of Saturday's contest, but after the coaching staff altered a couple of defensive assignments, the gridders held the 'bone in check the rest of the way.
"You have about three days [to prepare for the Wishbone]," Restic said. "We just didn't have enough time. I don't say that to take anything away from [Northeastern], but it's just the way it is."
Given time--just five minutes--the Crimson was able to regroup.
"We were confused at first how to attack their option," said adjuster Mike von Rueden (six tackles), who had never defensed the Wishbone before the NU game. "We had practiced a certain way and it wasn't working, so we had to switch in the middle of the game."
To preare for the Huskies' Wishbone, the gridders frequently practiced without a ball the week leading up to the crosstown showdown.
"They told us not to worry about where the ball ends up," said Peter Allen (seven tackles, one sack), who started again in place of injured Captain Kevin Dulsky. "We were just supposed to stick to our responsibilities no matter what."
The problem was that those responsibilities came in large, extra large and Incredible Hulk-like sizes. The Huskies offensive line averages 260-lbs per man. And the backs, although smaller, are hard-hitting.
One of the keys to the successful afternoon was the Crimson's ability to contain confident NU quarterback Jim O'Leary, who managed to chalk up 192 yards on the ground in the Huskies' first two games when he wasn't busy deceiving opposing defenses into foolish pursuits.
Harvard held O'Leary to just 20 yards rushing, and nailed him several times behind the line of scrimmage. Linebackers Richard Mau (16 tackles, one sack) and Kris Thabit (12 tackles) were largely responsible for the gridders' turnaround from a 10-point first-quarter deficit to a seven point lead at the intermission.
They took certain things away from us," Husky Coach Paul Pawlak said. Their linebackers were moving very quickly, they were flowing very well."
"I think our linebackers played well," Restic agreed. "They came off and didn't get caught up in there, and that's always the problem. The fullback hits him, freezes the linebacker, the ball comes out, and the linebacker doesn't see it--he's still searching the fullback."
Restic also praised the play of his cornerbacks and strong safeties, who consistently helped out on the run and pitch plays.
And, in the end, took the 'bone right from under the Huskies' noses.