The Harvard football team’s practices this week had the feel of uncharted waters.
Coming off its worst loss in three years—a rather shocking 35-18 home defeat at the hands of the Patriot League’s Lafayette College, the Crimson (3-2, 2-0 Ivy) looks to rebound tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. as it takes on Ivy League rival Princeton (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) at Harvard Stadium.
The Crimson hadn’t lost a game by more than a touchdown since a 34-13 defeat at Yale on Nov. 18, 2006. But the players aren’t hanging their heads.
“Last Saturday is going to end up being a good thing for the team,” said captain and defensive lineman Carl Ehrlich. “We got hung up a little bit. It made us refocus on the basics and playing disciplined football.”
The team isn’t doing anything largely different this week as it prepares for the Tigers, which it beat, 24-20, in New Jersey last season. For the first time in 10 years, Princeton has lost its first two league contests.
“Despite their record, they’re a very good team,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “You can look at the way they played Colgate in that Thursday-night game earlier this month. We’re solid...but we need to improve in all areas to have a successful game this week.”
To win, the Crimson will have to improve its run defense, which gave up 133 yards in the loss to Lafayette. This will be no easy task, as Princeton comes in averaging nearly 120 rushing yards per game, good for third in the Ancient Eight.
In last season’s matchup, then-junior running back Jordan Culbreath ran for 154 yards against the Harvard defense.
“I can’t remember a game which we won where we came out more disappointed in our performance,” Ehrlich said of last year’s matchup. “Our defense still has a pretty bad taste [in its mouth].”
However, Culbreath is out for the year as he deals with health issues. This has forced freshman running back Akil Sharp and converted defensive back Meko McCray to carry the majority of the rushing load for the Tigers.
The duo has combined to average 4.7 yards per carry since Culbreath went down.
“It’s been a learning process,” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said. “I’m very pleased with the way Meko’s been improving this week, but if we’re going to win, we need them to step up.”
It’s not just the Princeton running backs that will need to elevate their game.
Last week, senior linebacker Scott Britton suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss against Brown. Britton had ranked 10th nationally with 11.2 tackles per game and was coming off an Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week award when he went down.
“He provided a lot of energy on the team,” Hughes said about the impact of Britton’s loss. “It’d be naive to think you wouldn’t lose something.”