Maybe these names aren’t as recognizable as Carl Morris or Neil Rose, but on Harvard’s football team they are just as important.
“The offensive line is the backbone of our offense,” said senior quarterback Neil Rose.
And Saturday, in Harvard’s most important game in more than 30 years, the Crimson “O-line” excelled.
Penn boasted the top run defense in the country coming into the matchup between unbeatens, limiting opponents to just 43.4 yards a game. In fact, Penn limited Brown’s run game, lead by last year’s All-Ivy running back Michael Malan, to -27 yards. Harvard’s run offense, thanks in large part to the offensive line, amassed 145 yards on Saturday.
Until the standoff in the Stadium, the Quakers had allowed an average of only 1.6 yards a carry. The Harvard offensive line enabled junior tailback Nick Palazzo to average 5.9 yards a carry on his way to accumulating 88 yards on the afternoon.
Besides supporting the run game, the O-line also gave Rose protection from the Penn defense so he had time to find his targets and throw the ball.
The experienced Quakers’ defense includes three juniors and eight seniors. The defensive line returned two First-Team All-Ivy selections in brothers John and Ed Galan. The Quakers had recorded 31 sacks through their first seven games, a stellar 4.5 sack per game average. Harvard’s offensive line allowed the Quakers to get its hands on Rose only once for a petty four-yard loss.
When a quarterback is hurried he makes bad choices and throws interceptions and incompletions. Penn had already picked off seven passes coming into the match with Harvard. The Harvard offensive line gave Rose the time he needed to complete an impressively high 67 percent of his passes while throwing no interceptions. Compare that completion percentage to Penn’s Gavin Hoffman, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year. Hoffman completed 60 percent of his passes—but only if you include the one caught by Harvard senior cornerback Willie Alford.
“Whether a team runs or passes, the offensive line needs to dominate the line of scrimmage in order for the offense to be successful,” Rose said. “Our guys have done that and they are the main reason our offense has been successful.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Quaker scoring defense had given up an average of 8.9 points per game. Penn shut out Lafayette and held three other teams to a touchdown or less. Harvard—led by its offensive line—racked up 28 points leading the way to victory and at least a share of an Ivy League Championship for the Crimson.
“We have the best offensive line in the Ivy League,” said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy. “That’s one of the main reasons we’re 8-0.”
And because Harvard’s O-line is the best in the league and because that advantage led directly to Saturday’s dramatic win, The Harvard Crimson is proud to name all of Harvard’s offensive linemen as its Athletes of the Week.