The fate of Harvard football’s season hangs in the balance this weekend. Tomorrow, the Crimson (6-2, 4-1 Ivy League) travels to the University of Pennsylvania to battle the Quakers (7-1, 5-0) for control of the Ivy League championship race.
“We have a do-or-die mindset right now,” junior cornerback Matthew Hanson said. “Our goal is to win the Ivy League championship. We have to win out, but if we don’t get past Penn, we can’t win the league, so it’s all or nothing for us.”
The Quakers have pounded their way to an undefeated season in the Ancient Eight with 241.5 yards per game on the ground.
“They have a smash-mouth football team,” Hanson said. “They like to run the ball, and they like to stick with the run if they can. [Sophomore quarterback Billy Ragone] can run the ball as well, so our game plan is to stop the run and make Penn throw the ball.”
Ragone earned co-Ivy League Player of the Week honors after Penn’s 52-10 thrashing of Princeton last weekend. Ragone is second on the team in rushing yards with 465 to go along with a 126.4 passer efficiency rating.
Harvard will have to run the ball effectively to keep Ragone and the Quakers off the field—a difficult task considering Penn has the league’s best run defense.
The Quakers have surrendered an average of just 65.2 rushing yards per game.
“We definitely need to be able to run the ball,” junior quarterback Collier Winters said. “Our goal this week is to have 150 yards rushing, and that will allow us to not only move the ball and get in better second and third-down situations, but also to get some play-action plays, which will hopefully spread out the field.”
After playing in three games this year, Winter leads the Crimson with a 64.2 percent completion rate and 549 passing yards, but Harvard will rely on the tailback duo of senior Gino Gordon and sophomore Treavor Scales to guide its ground game.
The league’s second-leading rusher, Gordon has accumulated 913 yards so far this season.
The game pits the Ivy League’s two best offenses against one another, as the Quakers’ 28.1 points per game average is topped only by the Crimson’s 28.9. But on the other side of the ball, Penn has been the stronger squad.
“Obviously, they’re a really good defense,” Winters said. “Watching film on them all this week, they’re really fast. They have a lot of different looks, try to disguise a lot of things, and they’re disciplined as well. They don’t have a lot of breakdowns or give up big plays.”
The Quakers have only allowed an average of 265.2 yards per game, compared to the Crimson’s 309.2—first and second in the Ancient Eight, respectively.
The two teams are also first and second in the league in points allowed and rushing defense, respectively, which could make the game a battle of field position.
Critical to the game’s result will be the play of junior linebacker Alex Gedeon, who will start at punter in the place of sophomore Jake Dombrowski.