Mack the Knife: It Was Just Dartmouth
The Harvard football team is good, good enough to have a shot at the Ivy League title. But don't overstate the Crimson's chances just because it beat Dartmouth.
Harvard dominated a poor Dartmouth team in all phases of the game on Saturday and while the 49 - 7 victory helps Harvard in the Ivy standings, it didn't help to answer any questions about this team.
The Crimson passing offense has carried the team thus far this season. It was ranked 9th in Division I-AA going into Saturday's game, with just over 300 yards per game through the air. Furthermore, Harvard averaged over 28 points per game.
Quarterback Neil Rose and his receivers are largely responsible for this explosion of offense. Rose, a very accurate passer, has been able to get the ball to his receivers in stride.
Carl Morris, Kyle Cremarosa, Sean Meeker and the rest of the wideouts, for their part, have specialized in making Ivy League defensive backs look foolish and turning short passes into long gains.
But now the weather is getting colder. On Saturday, as the icy winds in Hanover, N.H., gusted to 25 mph, Harvard's passing game was slowed, not by anything that Dartmouth did on defense, but by the weather. The inclement conditions put the onus on the ground game to perform.
"We've always preached a balanced attack," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "We've got to be able to pound the football."
Harvard did pound the ball against the Big Green, gaining 309 yards on the ground. Five Crimson running backs contributed to that total, none gaining over 100 yards.
The offensive line consistently dominated the Dartmouth defensive front. Opening up huge holes for the running backs and protecting Rose extremely well, the guys in the trenches not only wore down, but knocked out the Big Green defense.
Then again, it was Dartmouth. Next week against Columbia, another Ivy cellar dweller, the O-line will have its last chance to fine-tune the power running attack before tough games with Penn and Yale.
Led by captain and left tackle Mike Clare, the offensive line is a cohesive unit that has the physical talent to manhandle any defense in the Ivy League. It remains to be seen if the O-line will make the most of its talent.
The offensive line has got to become the focal point of the offense from here on out. Though Rose and the receivers will continue to make plays and Harvard's backs will still make tough runs, this part of the season belongs to the men up front.
Going into the Penn game November 11th, Harvard should be 4-1 in the Ivy League and the Crimson will need to win the battles up front in order to win its last two games.
If the O-line can physically dominate the Penn and Yale defensive fronts, then Harvard will be halfway towards winning the Ivy crown.
The other ingredient that the Crimson needs is a pass rush late in the game.
On Saturday, Harvard pressured the passer effectively. But, again, it was Dartmouth.
Although the Crimson was able to pressure the passer, the defense only registered one sack and did not force the Dartmouth quarterbacks into making mistakes.
Granted, the Big Green quarterbacks made enough mistakes on their own, throwing five interceptions, but it was Dartmouth.
Harvard's pass defense matches in ineptitude what its passing offense displays in prowess.
The Crimson gives up 289 yards per game through the air. To be sure, some of those yards come because opposing teams have to pass in order to try and keep pace with the Crimson offense. But a lot of those yards come because Harvard has an ineffective pass rush.
Precisely because the Crimson tends to jump to large leads, and because Harvard's attack eight-man front stifles the run, pressuring the passer is the most important concern for the defensive front seven.
The Crimson defensive backs are a fairly solid bunch and they match-up well against the receivers that they will face in the remainder of the schedule.
What they won't do is match-up for five, six or seven seconds without someone getting open.
Especially late in the game, the D-line has to get to the quarterback. Sacks that come late in close games knock opponents out.
Blitzing is not the answer. If Harvard has to blitz consistently to get pressure on the passer, the defense will get beat down the field against Penn QB Gavin Hoffman and Yale's Peter Lee.
Okay, I know that earlier in this column I said that there are only two things that Harvard needs. Well, there is one other thing: field goals.
The Game will be close, as it always is, and I think that the outmatched-on-paper defenses for both teams will ride a wave of emotion to keep the score fairly low, while both offenses will suffer because of the same adrenaline high.
Defenses that ride an adrenaline high are toughest when their backs are against the wall in the red-zone.
If Harvard drives into the red-zone and comes away with no points against Yale, it could be fatal.
"We decided a couple of weeks ago to be a four-down team," Murphy said.
I sure hope that the Crimson will be able to find a way to kick field goals in the next couple of weeks. It would be a real shame if, but for a soccer player, the season was lost.