Kinda sounds like a cliched movie trailer. Don’t worry, the Wayans brothers are not part of the script. Instead, senior quarterback Neil Rose and junior wide-out Carl Morris are headlining.
Rose and Morris set or tied a combined 16 school records last season as Harvard boasted one of the most prolific offenses in recent school history. With an added year of experience, both players should improve on last year’s dynamic performances.
“I couldn’t be any more optimistic about our offensive unit,” Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. “We’ve got a playmaker in Carl Morris, who is a guy that will command attention from every defensive coordinator in the league this year. He will generate double teams and open up the rest of the offense. We’ve got a great quarterback in Neil Rose and an offensive line with depth—if everything falls into place, we could be as good as we were in 1997.”
The Crimson went undefeated in league play during the 1997 season and took home the Ivy title. Though there are some question marks regarding this year’s edition, Murphy can expect his team to put up big numbers on the scoreboard.
Rose, who started all but the first game of the season last year, is fully recovered from a shoulder injury that hampered his play against Penn and Yale in the last two games of last season. Despite the injury and beginning the season as the back-up quarterback, Rose set a Harvard record for most passing yards in a season with 2,655. He also threw for 412 yards against Brown in his first game as a Harvard starter, another Crimson record.
Morris asserted himself as Rose’s go-to-guy in the Brown contest. Morris caught 10 passes for 220 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, to ignite a comeback victory for the Crimson, 42-37. Morris would set Harvard records with 920 total receiving yards and 60 receptions in 2000, all-time highs for any wide receiver in Crimson history.
Both Rose and Morris admit to feeding off each other for their amazing success on the field.
“Carl Morris is the best receiver in the league, period,” Rose said. “Simply, no one can stop him. He’s smart, he’s strong, and he’s fast. I’m lucky to have him.” Morris agreed, “I think we’re both lucky to have each other. I know Neil makes me a better receiver and I hope I make him a better quarterback.”
The Harvard offense, however, is not limited to both Rose and Morris. In fact, while Harvard was only fourth in total passing offense last year (288.5 yards per game), the team was first in overall rushing (179.4 yards per game). Nick Palazzo led the Crimson in rushing yards with 740 on 130 carries.
Picking up 5.7 yards every attempt despite standing only 5’6, Palazzo has earned the reputation of a hard-nosed, determined back who is not afraid to take a beating.
Last season, Palazzo was complemented by fellow junior Matt Leiszler, who actually entered camp this year as the team’s number one back. However, Leiszler tore his ACL practicing at home in Kansas this summer, putting an end to his football career. Leiszler’s injury adds doubt to a position thought to be a strength on this year’s team.
“Matt was a legitimate Academic All-American, and his injury was a huge blow for us,” Murphy said. “Honestly, running back is a weakness on our team right now. We need to identify who the number two guy is on our team, and right now, I have no idea.”
Though 2000 captain and offensive tackle Mike Clare has departed, Harvard will bring back four starters and numerous experienced back-ups from last season’s offensive line. Seniors Steve Collins, Danny Kistler, Jason Hove, and Justin Stark all should provide holes for Palazzo while giving protection for Rose.
“The offensive line is the strength of our offensive unit,” Murphy said. “We’ve got a lot of returning skill guys, but they can’t perform without a steady O-line. This year, we’ve got great depth and varsity experience. I’d be surprised if we’re not better this year, even without [Clare].”
With so much offensive firepower, the team’s main focus on offense will be ball-security. Murphy felt that last year’s team could have gone undefeated in Ivy League play if it had limited its fourth-quarter turnovers. The Crimson has worked on controlling the ball in early practices by using drills that emphasize strong mental focus and holding onto the football. Murphy believes that Harvard could find itself at the top of the Ivy League if the Crimson can master this skill.
“Remember, if we don’t miss two field goals last year, we’re talking about how we can repeat as champions rather than how to get over the hump,” Murphy said. “We were so close last season. If we put it all together and improve our ball security, we’ll be right there.”