Tenacious D: Who Wants To Be a Crimson Placekicker?
PRINCETON, N.J.--The good news: on Saturday, Harvard beat Princeton 35-21 and entered into a share of first place in the Ivy League.
The bad news: the Crimson still hasn't made a field goal since the second quarter of the season opener.
This may strike you as an odd piece of bad news. After all, the golden arm of Neil Rose and the punishing legs of Matt Leiszler gave Harvard a large cushion, which pretty much made the assistance of special teams unnecessary.
Then again, what if Rose or Leiszler had been less prolific on Saturday? What if the game came down to Harvard's ability to make a field goal? Does Cornell ring a bell? How about The Game two years ago?
With Harvard's two missed field goal attempts against Princeton, the woeful Crimson placekickers are now a combined 1-for-9 on the season. Harvard, with a .111 average, easily has the worst kicking game in the Ivy League. To match this futility, Princeton would have to miss its next 68 field goals, Cornell its next 47, and Penn its next 44.
To understate things, Harvard has a problem. More importantly, the Crimson is struggling in the one area of Ivy League football where it is crucial to be competent.
This season, seven games involving Ivy teams have been decided by three or fewer points. Harvard has been on the losing end of two of those contests with a two-point loss against Holy Cross, and the heartbreaking one-point loss to Cornell.
Now that we've established the importance of a good kicking game, we should wonder as to what has accounted for eight straight missed field goals? One theory involves the names of our kickers. Anders "Oh no, he" Blewitt and Robbie "Wide" Wright are perhaps the two worst names to have as field goal specialists.
This unfortunate coincidence, though, is hardly a serious explanation and only fuels jokes at sports meetings and beyond. Until Coach Tim Murphy recruits a Bobby Shank or a Jimmy Crappykick, the name-related psychological theory can be relegated to the comedians among us.
All kidding aside, perhaps the most rational explanation is the relative youth and inexperience of the two Crimson placekickers. Blewitt is a sophomore and Wright is a freshman. It is understandable that such young kickers may be nervous or anxious when it comes to converting field goals in big-game situations.
"To some extent, I think that there is too much pressure on them now," Murphy said. "They're good kids and they'll continue to get better."
The only problem with this observation is that both Blewitt and Wright have blown kicks with relatively little on the line. I've even witnessed erratic misses during halftime practice.
The chronic inconsistency of Blewitt and Wright has forced the Harvard offense to essentially take the field goal option out of the playbook.
"We do consider it four-down territory now," Murphy said. "If it's fourth-and-3 or fourth-and-4, we'll go for it."
Such a mentality worked out well Saturday, when Rose was able to scramble on fourth-and-5 and connect with senior tight end Chris Stakich for the go-ahead score. However, other teams will key into Harvard's abandonment of the field goal unit and will potentially make late-game fourth down efforts nearly impossible.
With all of this said, how can the Crimson shield its Achilles' heel? In all honesty, Coach Murphy is probably doing the best he can by not depending on special teams as much and by allowing his young kickers to mature. For argument's sake, though, I offer three alternative solutions to the field goal fiasco.
My first proposal is inspired by the movie "Necessary Roughness" (please bear with me on this one). Remember how the Armadillos (the fictional team in the movie) couldn't find a placekicker? What did they do? They turned to a female soccer player, portrayed by uber-attractive model Kathy Ireland. Following suit, Harvard should also tap one of its soccer players for the football job.
This might seem far-fetched, but our soccer athletes are phenomenal kickers (since, you know, they can't use their hands) and would probably be more consistent than Blewitt or Wright. And I don't know about you, but I'd pay to see some of our very own uber-attractive soccer girls in gridiron action.
The second solution I would put forth would bring together the Harvard community in a spirit of friendly competition. Cashing in on the success of ABC's "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," we could have a campus-wide search for that special someone who will be our special-teams savior. We could call it "Who Wants To Be a Crimson Placekicker?" and even have a short, annoying man moderate the contests during halftime at home games. With the potential for corporate sponsors, we might be able to also fund spin-offs of our contest to other schools with bad kickers, like Florida State.
And finally, since this is Harvard, I would suggest that we place the kicking responsibilities on the auction block. Every game, we could have a guest appearance by a wealthy alumnus who could endow the special teams assignment for his appearance. I can picture it now: "On to try the field goal is the Winston F. Smith Field Goal Kicker and Professor of the Point After, Winston F. Smith!"
All of these whimsical suggestions aside, it cannot be stressed enough that Harvard has a serious problem on its hands. Without the confidence in the kicking game, the offense will be forced to always convert fourth down attempts. Also, with an inability to convert on field goal attempts, the Crimson will continue to lose close games.
And, if you're reading this Coach Murphy, you can always put me in if all else fails. I couldn't possibly do much worse than what you've been used to all season.