A team that had seven turnovers and was lucky to escape 1-1 in its first two games of the season turned things around with a solid, turnover-free performance that included its most balanced attack of the year.
The bulk of the turnaround came from Harvard’s ability to protect and possess the football. After an abysmal deficit in possession time last weekend against Brown, the Crimson seemed to move the ball at will, holding the football for over nine minutes in multiple quarters.
“I don’t think anyone in America works more on ball security than we do,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “It’s our only goal offensively, there’s nothing else. We work on drills every single day.”
Possessing and protecting the ball paved the way for Harvard to use the run effectively, something it had failed to utilize consistently so far this season, in part due to an ever-changing depth chart at tailback—each week no one knows which back will line up behind quarterback Chris Pizzotti on which play of which drive.
Murphy continued to use his three-back attack, although game one starter junior Ben Jenkins saw only limited time and did not carry the ball.
Sophomore Gino Gordon shouldered much of the load on the opening drive and carried the ball 16 times for 49 yards, but it was junior Cheng Ho who, while playing like he had a chip on his shoulder, made every carry count. The junior rushed the ball 20 times for 108 yards, including a 51-yard scamper—his career long—that set up the Crimson’s only score of the second half.
“He’s such an unbelievable competitor, and he’s really hard on himself at times,” Murphy said. “He’s such a perfectionist, but he came through today when we needed him most, and he’s going to have to do that the rest of the season.”
The run kept what had been a pass-happy offense—the Crimson had thrown over 91 passes through two games—more balanced and a tough Lafayette defense honest. Pizzotti was able to relax more in the pocket and even got in on a few run plays himself. In addition to going 15-of-28 for 231 yards and a touchdown, the senior executed the option twice and rushed for a net of 20 yards.
“It’s something that I’ve always tried to improve on each year, running the football,” Pizzotti said. “When you have a quarterback that’s a little more mobile, it takes a little of the pressure off the offensive line and the running backs. But most importantly it was basically I was running through holes today. I’m not the most mobile guy, so I tried to keep it straight and narrow.”
The well-rounded victory couldn’t have been achieved without the defense—which had been stepping up the whole game—taking things up a notch in the third and fourth quarters as the offense became relatively stagnate.
The defense shined as it finally didn’t have to work against short fields due to better ball security. Saturday marked the 30th consecutive game that the defense has not allowed a single rusher of 100 yards, and the unit allowed just 59 total yards of offense in the second half.
“I feel that if teams have to go the whole field on us consistently throughout the game, if they have to comprise long drives, it’s going to be really tough for them to score,” captain Matt Curtis said. “We have a very strong defense…to not have any turnovers on the offense, for the offense to push field position a couple of times, they did a fantastic job, they made life for us very easy a couple of times.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.