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Football Hopes to Bounce Back against Lafayette

Fine Line
The Harvard defense readies for a snap against Brown. In the first three quarters, the Crimson held the Bears' offense scoreless.

In its long run of dominance in the 21st century, Harvard football has not lost two consecutive games very often. It recently happened at the end of the 2016 season, however. The Crimson dropped back-to-back contests against Penn and Yale, missing out on a shared Ivy League title.

After its Week One loss to Rhode Island, Harvard responded in typical fashion with a 45-28 victory over Brown. The Crimson (2-2, 1-1 Ivy) will look to respond similarly this week, as it hosts non-conference opponent Lafayette following a defeat at Cornell.

“Honestly, the loss was pretty tough, especially [since Cornell wasn’t] the best team in the league,” said junior wide receiver Adam Scott. “The only thing we can do now is grow, get better, and just take it one week at a time. We’re trying to go 1-0 this week.”

For a college team, Lafayette (2-4, 2-0 Patriot) has a unique offensive scheme. Instead of running the run-pass option like many collegiate offenses, the Leopards place the quarterback under center and call a lot of run plays, which in turn set the stage for play-action passes and screen passes.

“It’s an offense that you see when you turn on the TV on Sundays,” captain Luke Hutton said. “It’s a pro-style attack, and it’s fun to play against. It’s challenging at the same time, but I think it’s kind of refreshing.”

Lafayette’s pro-style offense is the direct product of its rookie head coach. John Garrett, who spent time with the Dallas Cowboys as the passing game coordinator and tight ends coach, is in his first season of leading the Leopards. Garrett’s brother, Jason, has been the Cowboys’ head coach since 2010.

Harvard’s pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach, Mickey Fein, missed coaching under Garrett by one season. Fein spent the last nine seasons on the Lafayette staff, including eight years as offensive coordinator. His time with the Leopards should lead to solid scouting reports on both Lafayette’s offense and defense.

Over the last two weeks, the Leopards’ defense has been nothing short of clutch. The Leopards won each of their last two games by a single score, and they held opponents Holy Cross and Fordham to just 17 total points despite allowing 734 total yards.

“They’ve only given up one touchdown apiece in the last two games to two of the offensive juggernauts of the league, Fordham and Holy Cross,” head coach Tim Murphy said. “So it’s going to be a very different Lafayette team than we’ve seen in a long time.”

The Crimson’s defensive unit will likely have to match Lafayette’s drive-for-drive, and it will also have to contend with a multitude of sidelined Harvard players. After a disappointing finish to last week’s game against Cornell, the Crimson defense needs to hone in on eliminating penalties and stopping the opponent’s rushing attack.

“We’re not really reinventing the wheel here by any means,” Hutton said. “We turned on the film and watched it as a defense, and [what] it came down to [was] the fundamentals were really, really bad in a lot of plays. We had the guys in the right places to make the plays. We just didn’t make them.”

In recent weeks, Harvard has struggled with penalties. Against Cornell, the Crimson picked up eight infractions worth 67 yards.

“It’s not them; it’s us,” Murphy said. “We need to get more out of our kids. We need to eliminate mental mistakes such as penalties, missed assignments. When a team loses, it starts with coaching, not with your players.”

If Harvard’s defense struggles with several of its starters out of action, the Crimson will have to rely on the offense led by freshman quarterback Jake Smith. Smith, who remains Murphy’s first choice as signal caller, has two touchdowns and three interceptions in four games, but he has shown a proficiency for throwing the deep ball and escaping pocket pressure.

Though this Saturday’s appointment with Lafayette will not impact the Crimson’s position in the Ivy League standings, it will serve as a chance to get both the offense and the defense back on track, ahead of the remaining Ancient Eight schedule. Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia are all showing flashes of competitiveness early on.

“We know what this means,” Hutton said. “I think we understand the weight of every single game that we’re about to play. We’re excited to get back out there and show that we’re a better defense and a better team than what we showed last week.”

—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at jack.stockless@thecrimson.com.

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