“Which team shows up will be interesting,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They’re a little bit of an enigma, but from what we see and what we experienced last year, they’ve got plenty of athletes.”
The Mountain Hawks (2-3, 1-0 Patriot) are coming off an emphatic 45-24 win over defending Patriot League champion Fordham, in what may have been a breakout game for an offense that has struggled to pick up momentum leading up to Saturday’s matchup with Harvard. Prior to that win, Lehigh had been largely ineffective on offense, scoring just 14 points against No. 21 Villanova in week two and seven points against Princeton the following week.
Last weekend, however, the Mountain Hawks set season highs for points, yards, and first downs, a week after falling in dramatic fashion to Cornell, 25-24.
The Lehigh offense is led by quarterback J.B. Clark, who had a career game against the Rams, throwing for 296 yards and four scores with no interceptions. Clark, a sophomore in his first year as a starter, will likely continue to throw the ball frequently against a Harvard defense that is surrendering an average of 243.2 yards per game through the air.
He’ll get little help from a Lehigh rushing attack that is averaging a measly 88.8 yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry.
“They’re a very heavy screen team,” senior cornerback Andrew Berry said. “They love to run screens, and that often comes at the expense of the running game.”
The Mountain Hawks have also struggled to protect Clark at times. Lehigh has given up 10 sacks on the year, the second-most in the Patriot League.
The Crimson offense, meanwhile, will look to challenge a Mountain Hawks defense that is allowing 275.4 yards per game through the air. That bodes well for senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who is second in the Ivies in passing with 300.5 yards per game. Despite all the yardage surrendered, Lehigh has allowed just four touchdown passes against eight interceptions.
Harvard will also be looking to reverse last season’s terrible special teams performance against the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh punter Jason Leo, a rugby-style punter, averaged 44.1 yards per punt and pinned the Crimson inside its own 20 six times, while Harvard also surrendered a punt return for a touchdown, missed a field goal, and had a potential game-winning field goal blocked.
“It felt like we were going uphill all day,” Murphy said. “It’ll be a huge priority for us, no question. On paper, coming in, they’ve got a pretty big advantage in that area…We’re going to have to do a great job, number one, fielding, because they’re a rubgy punt team, and it’s very unorthodox, so we’ll probably have to put two returners out there because you never know where the ball is going.”
Berry, one of the returners used on special teams this season, agreed.
“That’s something that we’ve definitely made a point of emphasis in practice this week,” he said. “Knowing that their punter is back and having a second look at their unique punting style is definitely an advantage.”
The Crimson’s final non-conference game comes on a weekend when the Ivy race will take clearer shape. Brown and Princeton, two of the three teams that have yet to lose an Ivy game, will face off in New Jersey, while Penn, the third squad, will host Columbia.
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.