Yale Victimizes Secondary in Second Half
NEW HAVEN, Conn.--Less than a minute away from the biggest Ivy League upset of the year, the Crimson once again proved that there's always enough time left on the clock to lose one last game.
After falling on a Hail Mary pass from midfield, 21-17, against Penn and losing a heartbreaker to Brown, 17-10, Harvard (5-5, 3-4 Ivy) lost its third straight on a four-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Eric Johnson that capped a 24-21 comeback for Yale (9-1, 6-1 Ivy).
Despite being outplayed most of the game, Harvard was in the driver's seat with less than five minutes to go in the game, up 21-17.
True to form, however, the Crimson offense went three-and-out with the game on the line and gave star senior quarterback Joe Walland the ball at his own 42 yard-line with 2:53 left on the clock.
With ample time to execute his highly successful run-and-gun offense, Walland marched 58 yards down the field in nine plays for the touchdown and a share of the Ivy Title.
Despite spending the night before The Game in the hospital with tonsillitis, Walland rose to the occasion in the biggest game of his Ivy career.
Completing 42-of-67 passes for 437 yards and picking his way through the Harvard secondary, Walland set Yale records for completions, attempts, and passing yardage in a single game.
Combined with Johnson, who shattered Curt Grieve's single-season reception record set in 1981, with 21 receptions yesterday for a total of 67 catches this season, Walland and the Yale passing game dumbfounded the Crimson pass defense throughout the second-half.
Down 7-3 going into halftime, Yale coach Jack Siedlecki, who ran only one rushing play the entire second half, abandoned the running game and entrusted The Game to Walland's arm.
"I've never totally abandoned the run until this game," Siedlecki said. "We couldn't run the ball, we just couldn't incorporate the run into our game and make it work."
Led by seniors Isaiah Kacyvenski, Jeff Svicarovich, and Chris Nowinski, the Harvard defensive line effectively nullified the rushing attack of Yale's leading tailback, junior Rashad Bartholomew.
Holding Bartholomew to 57 yards on 13 carries, despite a 42 yard rush in the first half, the Crimson defense held opposing rushers to 114 yards on 101 attempts through the last four games of the season.
But Yale neutralized the effectiveness of the front-seven by simply not running the ball.
Lining up four wide and throwing out of the shotgun exclusively after halftime, Walland came alive with 343 yards passing in the second half as the Crimson defense crumbled in front of the four wide receiver set.
"I knew that we'd shut down the run," Murphy said. "And they'd have to pass 60 times."
Yet even knowing that Walland was going to throw on every play, the Harvard defense couldn't protect the zone as the Bulldog receivers slipped between the linebackers and the secondary for short gains over the middle.
"I couldn't imagine getting that many catches before The Game," Johnson said. "But it was just a lot of short passes."
The problem with the Crimson pass coverage wasn't limited to any single individual. Although the Crimson's front four was outstanding at stopping the rush, they simply didn't put enough pressure on Walland when he dropped back to pass.
Given all the time he needed in the pocket and four excellent receivers downfield on every play, Walland could hardly miss.
In fact, Walland hardly missed all year, throwing just four interceptions.
In addition to Johnson's 244 yards receiving, junior wideout Tommy McNamara pitched in with 10 receptions of his own for 82 yards, while captain Jake Fuller, Yale's big play specialist, added 64 yards on only four receptions.
In total, all four Yale receivers ended the day with more receptions and receiving yards individually than Harvard's leading wideout, senior Terrence Patterson, who had only 3 catches for 35 yards in The Game.
No matter what defensive combination Harvard coach Tim Murphy tried to slow down the Elis' passing game, Walland would simply find a way around it.
"We tried zone, man, combo, but it just didn't matter," Murphy said. "Eric Johnson is a hell of a football player, but Joe Walland is special He's the type of quarterback that just wills things to happen out there."
Even when Harvard blitzed, the results were no different. Without the linebackers to assist the secondary on pass protection, Yale's four wideouts simply cruised through the secondary against man-to-man coverage.
Fearful of giving up the big play, the Crimson defense played the entire second half in prevent defense and Walland ate it up, one pass at a time.
Late in the third quarter, Walland marched his team 69 yards downfield on just 6 plays, culminating in a 28-yard touchdown pass to captain Jake Fuller.
Fuller beat both the safety and the cornerback for his wide open reception.
Setting up the touchdown was a 22-yard pass to Johnson on second-and-10 from the Yale 47. Johnson set-up between senior linebackers Aron Natale and Jeff Svicarovich
The linebackers certainly made a valiant effort, especially Natale who led the Crimson with 11 tackles. However, there wasn't much the linebackers could do against the four-wideout formation.
If they blitzed, they left a weak secondary vulnerable to the big play, and if they stayed back in coverage, the Elis receivers could still beat them either to the sidelines or underneath.
"We felt with our four legitimate receivers that we could always make plays," Walland said.
Heading into The Game, the Crimson's biggest question mark was its secondary and coming out of The Game, it's clear that the question was well-founded.
Yale took advantage of the one obvious weakness on Harvard's No. 1 ranked defense.
The Crimson defense was the heart and soul of this team throughout the season. It carried the offense when it struggled, even scoring once against Yale on a blocked field goal attempt.
Every single player Harvard player left his heart on the field Saturday, but the Crimson pass defense couldn't keep up with Yale's multifaceted receiving corps.
The score reflected it for the second week in a row.