NOTEBOOK: Defense First in Crimson Victory
BETHLEHEM, Penn.—As the Harvard football team prepared to take the field at Lehigh on Saturday, the Crimson faced uncertainties regarding its banged-up defense, especially in the wake of season-ending injuries to senior Ryan Burkhead and junior Ben Graeff.
Despite the losses, Harvard’s depth of talent has stepped up.
“I think it really starts with our defensive staff—[it] has really done a great job of getting some young kids ready to play, that we hadn’t thought we’d be playing so soon, especially at the defensive end position,” Murphy said. “You also factor in that we have a lot of veteran linebackers but not many have been front-line players. I think they’ve done a good job.”
The defense notched four interceptions Saturday, with junior Collin Zych picking a pair of passes, senior Ryan Barnes snatching one of his own, and senior Jon Takamura returning an interception for 60 yards and a touchdown.
“[Defensive coordinator Scott] Larkee had us well-prepared this week,” Takamura said. “So I just saw the fullback flare out for a screen, and I just read it, got under it, got lucky. The quarterback threw the ball, and I just surrounded the ball and ended up in the endzone.”
The key to Harvard’s offense has long been its balance. The questions looming around junior Collier Winters’ campaign as Crimson quarterback centered on whether he could supply the balance to the passing side that Chris Pizzotti ’08-’09 offered in Harvard’s back-to-back Ivy championship seasons. So far, Winters has met that challenge adeptly.
But Saturday’s contest against Lehigh had spectators wondering about the other side of the Crimson’s balanced offense—the run game.
Harvard’s regular starting running back, junior Gino Gordon, was sidelined with an injury. Though Crimson coach Tim Murphy would not go into specifics, Gordon was dressed to play.
“He should be fine,” Murphy said of Gordon. “I mean, we could have used him today, but like I said, we’ve got the luxury of depth so we could rest him.”
Also, according to Murphy, Harvard’s second-string back, rookie Treavor Scales, returned home to Georgia to attend to a death in the family.
That left the Crimson’s offense with its number three, senior Cheng Ho. Ho, who missed most of last year due to injury, was Harvard’s starter two years ago, and on Saturday he returned to form. He rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown, and caught a 13-yard touchdown reception.
“We didn’t have our number one, we didn’t have our number two, and Cheng’s a guy we’ve always been able to count on,” Murphy said.
In last week’s nail-biter against Brown, the Crimson racked up 11 penalties resulting in 92 free yards for the Bears.
“Just penalties in general is a concern, and it will be addressed,” Murphy said after Harvard narrowly beat Brown, 24-21. “If you look at us traditionally, we’re a team that doesn’t beat itself. We don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
In Saturday’s contest against the Mountain Hawks, it appeared that those concerns had been addressed. Harvard accumulated only three penalties resulting in 23 yards. The defensive backfield maintained consistent pressure on the Lehigh receivers without drawing any flags—a nagging problem last week—as Harvard coasted to the 28-14 win.
—Staff writer Dixon McPhillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.