NOTEBOOK: Defense Dominant in First Ivy Win
Harvard hopes the maxim that defense wins championships holds true, especially considering its defensive performance on Saturday against Cornell. In its first Ivy League matchup since the Sept. 25 loss to Brown, the Crimson looked to reenergize its pursuit of the Ivy crown. Although missing key starters on both sides of the ball due to injuries, including sophomore defensive back D.J. Monroe and senior quarterback Andrew Hatch, Harvard’s defensive line stepped up and established dominance over the Big Red offense. The performance of the men up front allowed the Crimson to maintain its lead throughout the game, despite three offensive turnovers by Harvard in the first half.
“Obviously it wasn’t a pretty one for much of the game,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “I thought our defensive and special teams players and coaches really kept us in the game until our offense came alive a little bit in the second half. I’m really proud of how our kids persevered even though we have to correct a lot of things. It was sloppy at times, but the effort was outstanding.”
On the game, the Harvard defense held Cornell to a meager 2.8 yards per play. By effectively shutting down the Big Red rushing game—Cornell rushed for only 69 yards on 36 carries—the Crimson was able to direct its efforts towards Big Red freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews. Harvard’s defensive line, led by junior defensive end Ben Graeff, placed Mathews under constant pressure, sacking the Cornell quarterback eight times—four by Graeff, his career best.
“We talked about [pass rushing] during the week and kind of set up some different packages and blitzes for that,” Graeff said. “But a lot of our sacks came out of just beating them one-on-one. We were playing base defense for most of the game, so just kind of line up and beat the guy in front of you.”
Though self-flagellation is often associated with fringe Buddhist monastic orders, the Crimson suffered from self-inflicted wounds with a number of penalties. Over the course of the game, Harvard registered 11 penalties for 85 yards, including one holding call that erased a 50-yard rush by Gordon. Also on special teams, the Crimson handed the Big Red offense favorable field position twice, after an illegal block and late hit on the Cornell punt returner.
Although Harvard walked away the victor, the amount of penalties and their timing during the game proved to be a major concern for the Crimson coaching staff.
“We’ve been really a Jekyll and Hyde team in that regard,” Murphy said. “Two of the games, we’ve been almost perfect in terms of ball security and penalties, and two of the games we’ve been really sloppy. And I have to figure out what the correlation is, but there’s no excuse for it. We’re not a team that’s used to that, we’re not a team that can win doing that, so we have to get it squared away.”
BORN TO RUN
It’s no secret that senior Gino Gordon, an All-Ivy first-teamer a year ago, is a good running back. For the second consecutive game, Gordon rushed for over 100 yards to bring his season total to 389 yards in four games. Even so, Harvard did not have to rely on Gordon alone. The senior was assisted by his fellow backs—sophomores Treavor Scales and Rich Zajeski, who combined for 150 yards on the ground. Scales and Zajeski were notable for their explosive runs. Scales reeled off a 51-yard rush in one play, and Zajeski similarly broke for a 43-yard touchdown.
“It’s always fun blocking for those guys, all three, Gino, Treavor, and [Zajeski],” said senior offensive lineman Brent Osborne. “They always do a great job. If they keep pounding and keep pounding, eventually they’re going to break one of those plays.”