Jousting in Jersey

The two teams taking the field tomorrow at Princeton Stadium have many things in common. From their 1-1 Ivy League records to the fact that each squad possesses a member of the Berry twins (Adam at Princeton, Andrew at Harvard), it’s not hard to find superficial similarities.

But tomorrow’s 1 p.m. matchup will hardly look the same on either side of the ball.

The Crimson (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) boasts a slew of offensive weapons, from fifth-year senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who leads the league with over 300 yards passing per game to junior wideout Matt Luft, who leads the Ivies in receiving yards per game—Harvard’s threat through the air is undeniable.

And then there’s Princeton (2-3, 1-1). Last weekend against Brown, the Tigers showcased three quarterbacks over the course of their 31-10 drubbing by the league-leading Bears, and the No. 1 guy on the depth chart, senior Brian Anderson, remains questionable for tomorrow’s game.

Princeton is last in the league in passes thrown, completed, and passing yards per game and if Anderson, for some reason, cannot recover from the injury to his non-throwing shoulder, the Harvard defense will likely have a field day.

That doesn’t mean the Tigers don’t have an offensive attack. Shouldering most of the offensive load for Princeton is junior tailback Jordan Culbreath. A quick and physical runner who has already posted 481 yards and four touchdowns this season, Culbreath is going up against a Harvard defense that hasn’t quite been itself lately against the run.

The Crimson defensive corps has gone from tops in the nation to middle of the pack in the Ivies so far this season. In last weekend’s 27-24 win over Lehigh, the team allowed an opponent to rush for over 100 yards for just the first time in three years, but that doesn’t mean guys haven’t been coming close.

“[Culbreath is] good,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “He’s fast, like Princeton seems to have a lot of good speed kids. He’s tough, he’s physical, he sees the field well. He’s arguably running the ball better than anybody in our league right now…we’ve got to do a lot better job defending the run than we did last week.”

Even though the run has been the mainstay of the Princeton offense, that doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t go to the air. When they do, look for the majority of the balls to go to senior wideout Will Thanheiser, who is good for almost 100 yards a game.

An under-utilized aspect of Princeton’s offense, the receiving corps boasts a second more-than-capable receiver in the form of tri-captain Adam Berry, who has caught just six passes so far this season.

“I think we’ll do what we have to do to move the ball,” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said. “The attitude is ‘let’s just keep the chains moving.’ We’re the best when the quarterback isn’t thinking about who to throw it to, but is giving it to the guy that’s open.”

On the other side of the ball, the Tigers match up slightly better with the Crimson offense. Second to last in the league in run defense and second in pass defense, Pizzotti will have his hands full if Harvard can’t keep the Tiger D honest with the run.

The ground game will be bolstered by the return of sophomore Gino Gordon, who was out nursing an injury last weekend, but leads the team in yards per game.

Also resurfacing to aid the offensive attack is sophomore Chris Lorditch, who went down with an ankle sprain in week three at Lafayette.

“We’re really fortunate to have guys step up, but you can’t diminish the return of guys like that,” Pizzotti said. “Gino’s been playing great, Chris was having a breakout season before he got hurt. They’re just two more guys that can help the offense, make big plays—that’s something we’re really going to take advantage of this week.”

Leading the defensive charge for Princeton will be a strong secondary and quick defensive backs ready to make a statement. With experience on the defensive line and just enough youthful athleticism—thanks to guys like sophomore Steven Cody who leads the team with 48 tackles—the Tigers certainly have the ability to keep things interesting tomorrow, but whether they will is altogether another question.

“For whatever reason, the teams that they’ve played, the schedule they’ve played, they obviously haven’t played to their potential yet, but they have the potential to be a very good defensive team, because they’ve got some great athletes over there,” Murphy said.

With a long trip, a blossoming rivalry, and the lingering memories of a stinging, 31-28 loss there in 2006—and if the Tigers can finally realize both their offensive and defensive abilities—tomorrow’s game has the potential to prove more interesting than the statistics might suggest.

—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at mshapiro@fas.harvard.edu.

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