Harvard Defense Again Musters Second-Half Resilience

PRINCETON, N.J.—Harvard coach Tim Murphy must give one hell of a halftime speech.

For the second week in a row, the Crimson defense clamped down after surrendering 14 first-half points, tossing a pair of zeroes up on the scoreboard in the third and fourth quarters.

“They gassed us on a few plays early,” senior linebacker Bobby Everett said. “We knew that they were a big-play team. We focused on stopping those plays and though we seemed to kind of get off to a bad start, we just stuck with the game plan.”

That approach has served the Crimson well throughout the 2004 season. Though Harvard has typically struggled in the first two periods, allowing 83 first-half points through six games, offenses have waffled in the face of the unit’s intermission adjustments, adding just 26 more after the break. That’s just one touchdown—a meaningless late-game tally by Lafayette after the game was already out of reach—a field goal and four scrambling opponents who’ve been sent away with nothing, despite their last ditch efforts.

“I think,” Murphy said, “our coaching staff has done a tremendous job, especially making halftime adjustments.”

Those changes left the Princeton backfield increasingly vulnerable, and quarterback Matt Verbit and his running back tandem, Jon Veach and Branden Benson, significantly less likely to find a path back to the line of scrimmage. Junior linebacker Matt Thomas alone accounted for two sacks and six tackles for a loss as he and the front seven harassed Verbit and nullified Veach—who a season ago rushed for over 200 yards against the Crimson—surrendering a measly 85 net yards on the ground.

THREE AND OUCH

Those numbers were largely the result of well-timed clutch performances from the Harvard defense, which prevented the Tigers from converting any of their 13 third downs.

“Our third-down conversions today were not good at all,” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said. “They modified their blitzing package a little bit and that kinda threw that off balance I guess.”

In the second half in particular, when Princeton struggled to remain within striking distance, the Crimson allowed just one drive of more than six plays, and the Tigers failed to advance the ball more than 30 yards even once. Setting the tone for the half, Harvard forced three-and-outs on Princeton’s second, third and fourth drives while its offense continued to extend the lead.

“If our offense hadn’t played as well as it did in last year’s 43-40 overtime win], we would have lost that game,” Everett said. “So we knew the responsibility was on us today, the defense, to come to play.”

Those failed third-down plays not only returned the ball to the Crimson offense, but frequently earned enviable field position due to standout special teams play.

Pressure once forced Princeton punter Colin McDonough to attempt an illegal drop kick following his fumbled snap, handing Harvard possession at the one-yard line—leading to a Clifton Dawson touchdown—and Russell Schober’s block deep inside Princeton territory gave the Crimson the ball at the 23-yard line, setting up a field goal.

TOUCHY SUBJECT

Though defended by standout cornerback Jay McCareins, senior wide receiver Brian Edwards was the surprising early focal point for the Harvard offense. Drawing heavy coverage from wary secondaries throughout the season, Edwards has primarly freed up teammate Corey Mazza, who has accounted for most of the Crimson’s receiving yards.

But quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked to Edwards early and often Saturday afternoon. The two connected on nine passes for 129 yards—109 of which came in the first half, courtesy of six receptions.

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