THE MALCOM X-FACTOR: Balanced Crimson Poised for Victory

I’m no mathematician, but the discoveries by the forebears of the craft have done a pretty good job holding up over time. Isaac Newton showed us gravity. Albert Einstein taught us that everything is relative. And Euclid, the most famous mathematician of all, predicted a Harvard victory tomorrow in the 124th edition of The Game.

He didn’t explicitly say Yale would lose, but it’s easy to extrapolate from one of his most basic geometrical rules: no physical object can be one-dimensional.

And so go the hopes of the Bulldogs, a team that enters The Game riding the legs of Mike McLeod and, well, nobody else. The junior running back has accounted for over 43 percent of Yale’s offense in 2007, and he’s the primary reason why the Bulldogs enter The Game looking to complete their first undefeated season since 1967.

But he’ll be met by a Crimson squad that ranks first in the Ivy League in rush defense, easily proving to be the most formidable opponent McLeod has seen all year. The best versus the best equals a wash, so let’s assume the Yale running game and the Harvard defensive front cancel each other out.

That’ll force the ball into the hands of Matt Polhemus, a quarterback with a completion percentage just over 50 percent and more picks (five) than touchdowns (four) this year.

What will Polhemus see when he scans the defensive backfield looking for an open receiver? He’ll see the best crop of defensive backs in all the Ivy-lined land. Three of the four men who patrol the passing lanes have registered multi-interception games this year (one is third in the nation in picks per game), and the other is the only defensive Preseason All-American in the entire league.

It almost seems like a waste—all that talent in the secondary up against a group of receivers who’d be lucky to crack fourth or fifth-string if they wore Crimson. I’m not sure what the final numbers will be, but it’s a losing formula for Yale.

Harvard quarterback Chris Pizzotti, on the other hand, has the most prolific touchdown-scoring receiver in team history at his disposal in the form of senior Corey Mazza. Harvard is so deep at receiver that the guy who scored the game-tying touchdown the last time The Game was played in New Haven is now fifth on the depth chart. Yeah, that deep.

And since we’re in a math mood, let’s have a few more numbers. With last week’s win over Penn, the Crimson is the first team in Ivy League history to win seven games in seven straight years. Harvard head coach Tim Murphy has three Ivy titles to the two won by his Bulldogs counterpart, Jack Siedlecki. Five of the last six Games have been Crimson victories. I could go on.

But the real number that matters is 1968. After all, that’s the last year in which both teams entered The Game undefeated in league play, as will be the case tomorrow. It’s the year in which Harvard erased a 16-point deficit in 42 seconds and beat Yale by a 29-29 score, a comeback that was rivaled only two years ago, the last time we were all forced to subject ourselves to the dark depths of New Haven.

All you Yalies still remember that one, don’t you? If not, here’s the basic equation: An 18-point Bulldog lead plus a huge fourth-quarter collapse by Yale plus three overtimes equals the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.

But enough math. I told you I wasn’t a math guy, and that’ll be good come tomorrow, when people always say you can throw the numbers out the window when Harvard and Yale play.

It’s about the history. Which is good because, well, that’s my major. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned up here in Cambridge, at the world’s top university, it’s that history is bound to repeat itself.

And history tells us that the Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Crimson in New Haven since the turn of the century. It tells us that the team with the best running back doesn’t always come out on top (see last year’s Game, an admittedly ugly 34-13 drubbing at the hands of Yale). It tells us that Murphy has Siedlecki’s number in the matchup.

But history also tells us that a battle of Ivy undefeateds in The Game is a showcase for the conference. It tells us that, on some level, it’s still a relevant contest. It tells us that the Ivy League still matters.

And that’s what’s most important in the end, right? Wrong.

I lied. History means nothing—I should have been a math major anyway. What’s most important is a Harvard victory, and that’s what we’re all going to see tomorrow.

Dream as you may, naive Bulldog fans, but as Euclid would say, the numbers don’t lie.

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.

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