Sound Off: Murphy Explains Penn Loss

Published by Kate Leist on November 16, 2010 at 3:11AM

In the modern era of sports, being a college coach carries with it the burden of constant media attention. Facing dozens of reporters at press conferences, head coaches have gotten savvier—they say what they need to and leave the rest up for speculation. Here at The Back Page, we’re happy to decode some of these media sessions, showing the average fan what we think coaches’ answers “really” mean.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy was in an unenviable position on Saturday afternoon. In his team’s biggest game of the season, the Crimson simply got outplayed. Penn won at least a share of an Ivy title on Franklin Field, and Murphy knew his team was out of the running for its sixth crown under his leadership. He took an accordingly somber tone at the postgame press conference, giving due credit to Penn and accepting responsibility for the Crimson’s shortcomings. We take a look at what Murphy’s comments say about Harvard heading into the Yale game this weekend in this week’s edition of Sound Off.

What Murphy Said: Penn’s a tremendous football team, and they’re a team that, you know, watching film on them from the first game right through today, has gotten better and better every week. And today, they were completely in sync, special teams, defensively, and offensively. It made us look bad, no question about it. I didn’t feel like we played great. Needless to say, some of that certainly is due to an outstanding Penn team, and some of that is that we just didn’t make any plays.

What Murphy Meant: This is a very accurate and honest assessment of Saturday’s game. The Quakers were dominant, and to a certain extent, Harvard didn’t stand a chance because it couldn’t match up with Penn’s powerful and well-conditioned team for a full 60 minutes. But the Crimson was right in the game through halftime, and it was mistakes and silly penalties—including back-to-back illegal motion and illegal formation penalties that killed a promising drive in the first quarter—that kept Harvard from taking advantage of its early opportunities.

What Murphy Said: There were some really tough special teams plays. Obviously, the first one, in which we stop them, and then we touch the ball, and they get the ball down deep, [giving them] first and 10, that one is a freak play. All I know is it looked like we were going to get the ball at the 20, and then it looks like maybe we’re going to get a touchdown, then maybe we’re going to get a safety, and then all of a sudden it’s at the 50-yard line. Huge field position swings.

What Murphy Meant: Murphy is referring to an early second-quarter play, in which Harvard stopped Penn at midfield, forcing the Quakers to punt. The punt hit junior Dan Minamide, making it a live ball, and Penn recovered the fumble at the Crimson nine-yard line. Although the Harvard defense did make a big stop, holding the Quakers to just a field goal, this play was a game-changer in that it got Penn on the board and swung momentum squarely to the Quakers’ side—a surge of momentum they never relinquished. The Crimson outgained Penn and had twice as many first downs, but because the Quakers won the field-position battle and had superior special teams, the game became incredibly lopsided.