Harvard Football Set to Face Off Against Cornell

EYES ON THE PRIZE
Senior Quarterback Joe Viviano, pictured above, knows that his performance against Cornell can go a long way in determining the team’s starter for the remainder of the season. Currently, coach Tim Murphy has not named a starter between Viviano and freshman Jake Smith.

Carved out of a hill high in Ithaca, N.Y., Schoellkopf Field is a foreboding structure.

An enormous crescent of bleachers rings one side of the Cornell stadium. Trees loom over one end zone. The place feels like the plateau of a giant mountain—windy and open.

The Big Red football program (0-3, 0-1 Ivy) is much less intimidating. Cornell hasn’t won at home since week two of 2016. The Big Red has dropped nine of its last 10 games, including three blowouts to start the 2017 season.

Saturday’s matchup with Harvard offers a chance to reverse course. In three games, Cornell has committed a staggering 10 turnovers. These miscues have boosted opponents and made competitive games feel more like routs.

Yes, the Big Red is a better team than the winless record indicates. Cornell has gained more first downs (67) than its opponents (60). The Big Red has accumulated 825 passing yards and only yielded 444.

Moreover, the three defeats have come against capable opponents. In conference play, Cornell has played only Yale—an offensive juggernaut that averages over 40 points a game.

Crimson coach Tim Murphy likes to emphasize the parity of the Ivy League. No team is a pushover, and, given recent dominance, Harvard tends to absorb the best shot from each conference foe.

Cornell marks the ultimate test of this philosophy. Harvard has won 11 straight against the beleaguered program from Upstate New York. On Saturday, the Crimson will have a chance to claim a 12th.

“Going into enemy territory can be difficult,” said junior defensive tackle Richie Ryan. “They’re going to be pumped up. But I know my team is going to bring the juice.”

The Harvard defense has certainly brought the juice in recent weeks. Last Saturday, the Crimson shut out the Georgetown offense. The Saturday before, Harvard pulled the same trick for three quarters versus Brown.

The front seven has played a major role. The Hoyas netted a pathetic 46 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Already, junior defensive end D.J. Bailey has recorded four sacks and a forced fumble.

As capably as the defensive line has played, the secondary may have performed even better. Senior defensive backs have tallied pick-sixes in consecutive games—one by safety Tanner Lee and one by cornerback Raishaun McGhee.

The Crimson has a reasonable chance of furthering the streak against quarterback Dalton Banks. The Big Red junior has tossed nine interceptions versus three touchdowns.

This ugly stat line conceals major talent. At 6’3” and 237 pounds, Banks outweighs all of Harvard’s linebackers. Last season, the then-sophomore earned an All-Ivy honorable mention.

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