Football Looks to End Cornell Streak

It has been a very, very long time since Harvard has defeated Cornell--try eight years, an unprecedented span of dominance of one Ivy League football team over another.

First-year Harvard Head Coach Tim Murphy, surprisingly aware of Harvard football's rich history, knows this. And, he wants a win.

Badly.

"Cornell has maintained a tremendous dominance the last decade over Harvard football," Murphy said. "They are going for their ninth win in a row over Harvard. That could very well be some sort of Ivy League record."

And at 1 p.m. today in Harvard Stadium, Murphy's boys face an experienced Cornell squad.

"They are big. They are strong. They are confident," Murphy said. "They were number one in the Ivy League on defense last year. They have a lot of returning players. They have an undefeated record."

However, don't be mistaken. Murphy claims Cornell is beatable, very beatable.

"We are going to play very well to win," Murphy said. "This team trounced Harvard [27-0] a year ago. Our players have not forgotten that."

Led by a corps of seven seniors, the Cornell defense has proven to be a formidable deterrent to the Big Red end zone this season. Although allowing more than 300 total yards per game, Cornell's "D" has surrendered an average of only 13 points.

On the other hand, Harvard's offense has been extremely prolific. The Crimson is churning out nearly 30 points and 441 yards per game.

Cornell's stingy run defense may be Harvard's biggest problem. In wins against Columbia and Holy Cross this season, the Crimson used the rushing tandem of Eion Hu and Kweli Thompson to open up the opponent's defense.

It is a strategy that has proven very effective. Thompson leads the Ivy League in rushing (117 yards per game) and has strung together consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts. A workhorse back, last week Hu proved that his hip injury was fleeting: the sophomore exploded for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Cornell, however, the "rush first, pass next" mentality might not be possible. Cornell has allowed only 111 ground yards per game and slightly over three yards per running play in 1994.

"We're going to try be more balanced offensively against Cornell," Murphy said. "They have the type of defense that does not allow you to emphasize one thing. You are not going to run the football right down these people's throats."

The passing game probably will not be that much more effective than the running game. Although he has proven both reliable and durable, Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara has only shown flashes of brilliance--while trailing Columbia 32-31, for instance--this season. With three touchdown passes and, more problematic, three interceptions in three games, the senior signal caller will need a phenomenal performance if Harvard is to emerge the winner.

"To be effective, we must mix it up," Murphy said.

The Big Red's number one ranking (overall in I-AA) in turnover margin complicates matters further for Harvard. Cornell has forced 16 turnovers but has committed only three. Big Red senior free safety Chris Hanson has four interceptions alone this season and the Crimson is averaging a frightful three turnovers per game.

"Although Cornell's defense is not the best [in Division I-AA], it is very close to it," Murphy said. "They are first in one of the most important and telling statistics: turnover ratio."

Harvard's defense, which has been uneven this season, will most likely find Cornell's offense to its liking. Cornell knows the old football adage: offense puts people in the seats, but defense wins games.

"Cornell's offense started very slowly this season," Murphy said. "They have been winning with their defense. However, we are catching a very good, balanced team."

The proverbial "big play" looms large on the Crimson defensive radar screen. Against Bucknell, five touchdown passes spelled out with brutal clarity what an opportunistic running back can do to the Harvard defense. In that regard, Murphy wants his second home game to be unlike his first.

"We must make them earn everything," he said. "We cannot give up any big plays. We know that they are going to be able to move the ball. If we eliminate the big plays, however, we'll be in this football game to the finish."CrimsonE. Houston WuWhen in doubt, give it to junior tailback KWELI THOMPSON, who leads the Ivy League rushing race.