Finally Turning Around Turnovers

Turning the tables
Alexandra C. Bell

  After a shaky start to the season littered with devastating turnovers, quarterback Liam O’Hagan has finally settled down. Instead of giving up turnovers, Harvard has started to force them.

It’s the one topic that Harvard football coach Tim Murphy touches upon in every single press conference: turnovers. And throughout the early part of the season, the Crimson was giving up too many and not getting enough.

Harvard surrendered more turnovers in each of its first four games than did its opponents. Sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan threw nine interceptions in his first four contests and the Crimson ranked dead last in the Ivy league in turnover differential.

But slowly, Harvard has begun to turn those numbers around. After losing the turnover battle for four straight weeks, the Crimson has now created more turnovers than it has surrendered for three straight games.

Not surprisingly, the change has started with O’Hagan. Harvard’s signal caller has limited his mistakes, putting together back to back interception free performances against Lafayette and Princeton before throwing two picks last week against Dartmouth.

“I give Liam an A for effort and an A for toughness and resiliency,” Murphy said. “He’s obviously still developing as a quarterback in terms of consistency, in terms of reads, and in terms of ball security.”

To go along with the offense’s improved ball security, the Crimson defense has all of a sudden turned into a ball hawking force. Harvard has forced seven turnovers in its last three games, including four last week against the Big Green.

“I think it’s a combination of things,” said Murphy of the defense’s increased turnover production. “I think number one is that we’re definitely getting a little better defensively, and two we’ve had a great pass rush.”

After spending the majority of the first half of the season ranked at the bottom of the Ivies for turnover differential, the Crimson enters this week finally out of the cellar.

Life at the Bottom

While Harvard has managed to improve its place in various Ivy rankings in recent weeks, the Crimson will take on what may be one of the worst Ivy teams in recent memory.

Columbia goes into the game this week ranked last or second to last in the Ivies in 16 statistical categories. The Lions are 0-4 in league games and have dropped those contests by an average of over 28 points-per-game. That includes a 17-6 loss to a Dartmouth team that Harvard clobbered 42-14 last week.

Columbia ranks last in the league in scoring offense, rushing offense, first downs, and time of possession. It also ranks last in total defense—allowing a whopping 407 yards per game.

The Lions chances for getting that illusive league victory this year would appear to be slim. After Saturday’s match up against Harvard, Columbia travels to Ithaca to play an improved Cornell squad and then finishes up against a Brown team that will likely be playing for at least a share of the Ivy title.

The last team to go winless in the Ivy league was Cornell in 2003.

Third and Four

Murphy said freshman cornerback Andrew Berry has a fifty-fifty shot of playing this week. Berry was sidelined last week with a shoulder injury. If Berry can’t go, sophomore Steven Williams, who had two interceptions against Dartmouth, will once again take his spot in the starting lineup…After breaking Harvard’s all time rushing record last week, junior tail back Clifton Dawson sits in sixth place among all time Ivy rushing leaders. He is 95 yards shy of fifth place, which is held by Robert Carr of Yale…With one more win, Murphy will move into a second place tie for career victories for a Harvard head coach. Murphy has accumulated 70 wins with the Crimson. Percy Haughton, who coached at Harvard from 1908-1916, currently holds second place all time with 71…Sophomore defensive end Brad Bagdis is tied for the Ivy league lead in sacks with five.

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

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