A season ago, the Harvard football team dismantled Yale in the 128th iteration of The Game, scoring 45 unanswered points in a 45-7 rout of the Bulldogs at the Yale Bowl.
The Crimson enters this year’s contest on Saturday at Harvard Stadium heavily favored once again, but perhaps The Game’s most intriguing storyline comes from off the field.
Following former Yale coach Tom Williams’ resignation after the 2011 season, the Bulldogs hired former Harvard assistant Tony Reno, who then brought three former Harvard coaches with him to New Haven.
Since then, Reno and his staff have worked to reshape a struggling Yale (2-7, 1-5 Ivy) program that has only beaten Harvard (7-2, 4-2) once in its last 11 tries. And according to Harvard coach Tim Murphy, the Yale systems look quite familiar.
“It’s the Harvard offense. It’s the Harvard defense. It’s that simple.” Murphy says.
That could inject some added intensity into the year’s most anticipated game.
“Everyone definitely…has a little chip on their shoulder,” said senior center Jack Holuba before the start of the season. “It’s a testament to the program Coach Murphy built that the dreaded rival would sell their soul to the devil and eventually want to buy the Harvard system.”
But Murphy maintains that the four coaches’ departures won’t change things on Saturday.
“It’s not about guys who have left the program,” Murphy says. “That’s ancient history. We moved on a long time ago, and therefore, as far as we’re concerned, it’s a non-factor.”
For Harvard, Saturday’s contest also could have Ivy title implications. But after last week’s 30-21 loss at Penn, the Crimson’s fate is out of its hands: only a Harvard win coupled with a Quakers loss to Cornell could guarantee the Crimson a share of the Ivy League title.
Harvard, however, may not need that extra motivation on Saturday.
In almost every team statistic, Yale sits at or near the bottom of the league. The Bulldogs’ per-game averages of 14.9 points, 163.4 passing yards, and 27:59 time of possession all rank last in the league, and their 29.7 points allowed per contest is seventh in the Ancient Eight.
Meanwhile, Harvard ranks second in passing yards (280.3), third in time of possession (30:12), and first in both points allowed (16.7) and points scored per game (40.0). The team needs just 15 points to break the modern-era program record, which it set last season.
“[Harvard is] a tremendous football team in all areas,” Reno says. “They don’t have a weakness there. They’re every bit as good as advertised.”
Yale’s most glaring weakness is its inconsistency at the quarterback position. First-string freshman Eric Williams is sidelined with injury, and junior John Whitelaw, last season’s backup, quit the team at the start of the year after being passed over for the starting job in favor of Williams. Though Reno says he may make a game-time decision regarding Saturday’s starter, it will likely be either senior Derek Russell or junior Hank Furman. Both are listed on the roster as wide receivers.