Football Turns to Elder Statesmen

The Rahooligan

HANOVER, N.H.—In an election season filled with forgotten geriatrics like Walter Mondale, Frank Lautenberg and Elizabeth Dole, it seemed only fitting that Harvard turned to two of its elder statesmen, captain Neil Rose and senior wideout Carl Morris, to defeat Dartmouth on Saturday.

After all, like the aforementioned politicians, Rose and Morris have gone through a recent period of time where the attention-grabbing headlines have tended to go to the youngsters. Ryan Fitzpatrick! Rodney Byrnes! James Harvey and Chris Raftery! Our Future Is With The Children!

Not that those players haven’t performed well or don’t deserve the accolades, but like every opposing coach knows, they don’t mean a thing as long as Rose and Morris retain their salience.

Saturday’s game proved that the road to a perfect Ivy season and title repeat still runs directly from Rose’s right hand to Morris’ outstretched fingers 12 yards downfield. Twenty-one catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns? Half of Rose’s 50 pass attempts (36 completions for 443 yards and a stellar 72 percent average) were headed for Morris, and he was the first read probably a good dozen more times.

In many respects, the pair’s statistical übergame was actually a reflection, not an aberration, of what has been transpiring in the background this season. Only this week, there were more signs that the two could have a big game.

Morris, having set so many records and made so many big plays in 2001, is always the Crimson’s leading receiver, and has more receptions in seven games this year than all of last season (73 to 71) as well as more yards (1,068 to 943). The fact is, he’s building up the most prolific receiving career in Ivy history, and as this week’s Sports Illustrated reported, a potential NFL career.

Rose’s record-setting day had been foreshadowed the entire season. Except for one quarter against Northeastern, when the threat of being pulled for Fitzpatrick constantly loomed over his head, Rose has been lights out whenever’s he played. His current completion percentage (68.1) surpasses last year’s rate, and, if you exclude the Northeastern game, Rose is completing an absurd 76 percent of his passes. More importantly, he’s only thrown one interception—and that was two months ago in the first game versus Holy Cross.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that the quarterback controversy between Rose and Fitzpatrick—which was slowly petering out with Rose’s standout performance against Princeton last week—took another positive turn for the captain in practice this week. Harvard coach Tim Murphy, deciding he wanted to put his “11 best athletes” on the field, worked on using Fitzpatrick at wide receiver. Not exactly a confidence-booster for the plethora of young receivers waiting in the wings, but it was a novel experiment. Fitzpatrick lined up about a dozen times Saturday at both wide and slot receiver positions.

To Rose’s credit, he never took the opportunity to make the QB question moot by throwing a pass in Fitzpatrick’s direction, or even calling a “crossing” pattern over the middle of the field. I even wonder whether Fitzpatrick was supposed to get open.

It didn’t matter, because Rose and Morris were telepathically linked the entire game. No. 19 wasn’t “open” in the conventional sense for most of the game, but his athleticism combined with Rose’s accuracy meant big gains every time.

“A lot of [Morris’s] routes aren’t set in stone,” Rose said. “But he’s the first read on most progressions.”

And the only read on Saturday. Morris lines up in two basic spots—a four-receiver package where he lines up alone on one side, or in the slot. Either way, Rose simply looked at the defense, figured out where the soft spot was and put Morris in it.

A good example of Dartmouth’s inability to stop Morris was Harvard’s 69-yard drive in the second quarter, where six out of seven plays went to Morris. Big Green cornerback Richard Efem was responsible for Morris, and free safety Clayton Smith helped on almost every down. When Smith played for the deep ball, Morris would slant and catch the 8-12 yard pass in front of Efem. The next time Smith would creep up and fake the blitz, but Rose and Morris realized that Smith couldn’t catch up once he had moved in. The result was one-on-one coverage, and very few cornerbacks stand a chance in that situation, so Rose threw a fade.

“We were double-covering him,” Dartmouth coach John Lyons said about stopping Morris. “Obviously it just wasn’t working.”

Rose and Morris have three games left in their college careers, and with the opponents remaining, won’t have a game so statistically magnificent as this past weekend. But I wouldn’t put it past them to put up huge numbers and heroic performances on the way to the Ivy championship—in fact, that’s almost guaranteed.

Young Harvard fans may be looking to the Crimson’s speedy, talented freshmen, sophomores and juniors as the reason this team is winning. But Harvard’s last three games of the present season will not be won on the strength of its kids. That will come from Rose and Morris, the Big Daddies.

—Staff writer Rahul Rohatgi can be reached at rohatgi@fas.harvard.edu.

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