THE COMMISH: Scoreboards and Stats Don’t Lie: Let Fitzpatrick Be Fitzpatrick

HE'S STILL GOT IT
Jessica E. Schumer

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 317 yards and rushed for 102 more in the Crimson’s 34-24 victory over the Big Red.

Cornell coach Jim Knowles sat down for his postgame press conference, looked up at the group of reporters awaiting his assessment of the Big Red’s 38-24 loss to Harvard and proceeded to give an impromptu impersonation of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s father.

For the next 20 minutes, Knowles sounded like a proud parent boasting about his son’s accomplishments to a group of neighbors at a backyard barbecue or PTA meeting.

When a reporter asked about what went wrong for Cornell, Knowles talked about Fitzpatrick. When a reporter questioned what happened to the vaunted Big Red defense, he talked about Fitzpatrick. Even when a reporter asked Knowles about his own offense, the Cornell coach somehow managed to turn the question around and talked about—you guessed it—Fitzpatrick.

“He’s a guy who just runs around and makes plays,” Knowles beamed about the Crimson signal caller. “He’s a hard runner and he’s a great thrower. We didn’t underestimate him in any way, but defenses aren’t going to have too many answers for that guy.”

Cornell certainly couldn’t muster any solutions on Saturday. In a season that has seen Fitzpatrick’s role largely reduced to handing the ball off to sophomore running back Clifton Dawson, the Harvard captain reminded everyone that—for another six games at least—this is still his team.

A week after being dropped off the Payton Award watch list—with Dawson taking his place—Fitzpatrick racked up 419 total yards, his largest output since his 471-yard outburst in last season’s opener against Holy Cross.

With scouts from the Miami Dolphins studying his every move from the press box, Fitzpatrick picked a good day to turn in a 2003-esque performance.

You couldn’t blame Fitzpatrick if he was beginning to get a little frustrated with the Crimson’s new run-centered, more conservative approach. The senior, who for three years ran wildly around the field and who came into this campaign expecting to be the unquestioned focal point of Harvard’s attack, looked constrained in his own system. Clearly conscious of avoiding a recurrence of last year when injuries kept him out much of the season, Crimson coaches built an offense designed to keep Fitzpatrick on the field. Absent were the crazy scrambles downfield that ended in bone-jarring hits from opposing linebackers. Replacing them were more pocket-based passes and dives at the end of carefully choreographed runs.

Essentially, Tim Murphy and Co. decided that Fitzpatrick-lite was still better than anything else they had.

Don’t get me wrong, Fitzpatrick’s stats weren’t bad, especially if you disregard his hurricane-hampered performance in the opener against Holy Cross, but this wasn’t the same Fitzpatrick.

Naturally, the captain never complained. He talked about what a pleasure it was to play with a back like Dawson, and how happy he was that the Crimson was winning. He sat next to Murphy at every press conference and nodded his head as the Harvard coach spoke of the greater importance of ball security over a quarterback’s statistics.

But on Saturday, with the Big Red consistently putting eight men in the box to stop Dawson, Murphy finally took the chains off and let Fitzpatrick do what he had done for his entire career.

Maybe this will remind the Harvard brass of what their signal caller can do. Maybe they’ll remember that while Fitzpatrick-lite is better than anything else they can offer, Fitzpatrick unchained is what they’re going to need to win an Ivy title.

At the end of the media session, Knowles took a moment of reflection and summed up his team’s defeat fairly succinctly.

“We were one athlete away and that was Fitzpatrick,” he concluded. “They were better than us by Fitzpatrick.”

Harvard can be better than a lot of teams “by Fitzpatrick.” It’s time to let him show it.

—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at stearns@fas.harvard.edu.

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