It’s a luxury few coaches have: choosing between two fifth-year seniors with 20 and 22 games of experience to start at quarterback.
But that luxury—and that burden—falls on head coach Tim Murphy, who has to figure out what to do with the talent he has returning for the 2008 season.
So how to make the choice between a guy that stands sixth in passing yards and ninth in total offense in Harvard history (Liam O’Hagan) and a guy that finished as the top quarterback in the Ivy League last season (Chris Pizzotti)?
For Murphy, it was a no-brainer: go with Pizzotti.
A First Team All-Ivy member in 2007, the senior completed over 63 percent of his passes, threw for 2,134 yards, and had 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the seven games he started. Through week one of this season, he has yet to lose a game that he both started and finished.
Despite an up-and-down first three quarters that included two picks last Friday against Holy Cross, Pizzotti’s play made it clear that Murphy didn’t make a mistake.
The senior’s impressive numbers on the night included completing 30-of-44 passes for 370 yards, one touchdown, and two one-yard rushing plunges. For his efforts, Pizzotti was awarded Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“I set goals for myself every year,” Pizzotti says. “I just want to pick up where I left off and just be the leader of the offense. We have so many different weapons on the team, it’s pretty easy for me, I just need to get the ball to them and let them do the work, try not to make too many mistakes, manage the game, and just be a leader.”
One of those weapons is classmate O’Hagan, an experienced passer with fancier feet—he’s rushed for 749 yards and 10 touchdowns, in addition to his 23 passing scores, in his career.
But the talent of the backup signal caller won’t completely go to waste, as fans will be sure to see O’Hagan in for special packages much like those sophomore Collier Winters played a part in last fall—particularly red zone opportunities where a mobile quarterback would be useful.
“I don’t want to give too much away,” O’Hagan jokes. “But it just goes along the lines of Coach Murphy saying ‘Be ready.’ I guess I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to spoil the fun.”
Murphy tried out his new game plan on first and 10 from the Holy Cross 13 last Friday, and things seemed to be going according to plan as O’Hagan ran for eight yards on first down. But on the very next play, the backup threw a pick on the goal line that put a temporary damper on the Crimson’s second-half run.
That won’t be it for O’Hagan, who is also trying his hand as a personal protector on the special teams unit. The hurler, who punted in high school, will provide an added threat each time Harvard punts the ball.
“It’s really fun to be back there, hitting some people, getting some work in there,” O’Hagan says. “Special teams, especially at Harvard, is something that people pride themselves on…it’s something I take very personally and really want to do well on.”
With Winters adding another few games of experience with 15 carries and two touchdowns behind him, the quarterback position will be nothing if not deep.
“Preseason went really well,” O’Hagan says. “I thought the quarterbacks had a great preseason all around, especially the young guys. There’s great competition.”
And despite preseason questions about a young wide receiving corps, it looks like whoever lines up behind center will have a number of sets of hands to throw to: sophomores Marco Iannuzzi and Chris Lorditch, as well as junior veteran Matt Luft.
“Our offense is as good as its ever been, so we’re definitely setting the goals high this year,” Pizzotti says.
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.