Harvard's football team has reached a crucial point in the season. With strong will-power and outstanding individual performances the squad could become a cohesive unit and win the remaining six football games. With any less effort, it could dissipate into a consistent loser.
Things are about the same as last year. Harvard has a 1-2 record, having dropped one Ivy and one non-Ivy contest.
A year ago, Harvard lost its first two games, against Lehigh and Colgate, and then defeated Cornell 14-0 in the Ivy opener. The next week, Columbia beat the Crimson. After the loss to Columbia, few knowledgeable people thought the Crimson had a serious chance for the championship.
But these observers failed to notice an important occurrence. Although the Crimson lost the game to Columbia, it outplayed the Lions in the second half, and for the first time showed it could play respectable football. Harvard played good football for the rest of the season.
Even though the Crimson was bombed by a superior Holy Cross last Saturday, in the second half it looked like a serious, coordinated ball team, and actually out played the Crusaders.
The big question is, of course, did this performance mean Harvard has again reached a turning point and now is ready to win football games, or was it a fluke? The answer should come this Saturday, when Harvard must defeat Columbia, or relinquish its share of the championship cup.
At the start of the season, every sports writer covering Harvard professed great respect for coach John Yovicsin's supply of backfield talent. If Harvard was to win, these men were going to do the job. As things have turned out, however, the backs have been relatively unimpressive. They haven't been bad, just not great.
The line, which was supposed to cause all the problems, however, has shown considerable and surprising development. Against Holy Cross, a team that out-weighed Harvard on the forward wall by more than 20 pounds per man, the Crimson line did a fine job of trapping and double-teaming. Had there been fewer defensive mistakes in the secondary and more brilliant backfield play, victory would have been possible.
Individual performances on both line units, not always evident from the stands but obvious to coaches on films, have been very encouraging to the coaching staff. Brad Stephens has been quite effective at center, a position that was very weak when the season began. Tackle Ed Smith and Dick Diehl have been eliminating their men with some regularity.
Walt Dobrzelecki, Ernie Zissis, Chuck Kessler, and Bill Southmayd give the Crimson a guard squad with considerable toughness and increasing effectiveness. Although the loss of injured Tom Stephenson will hurt at end, Pat Young is not far behind him in ability. Dave Hudepohl is living up to earlier notices.
The element that is missing, then, is backfield excellence. Practically no one is fulfilling pre-season expectations. Bill Grana's problem may be that he is not getting the ball often enough, and Hobie Armstrong may be fighting lack of confidence. It is hard to say what is bothering the others, but something clearly is. The situation is accented by the fact that no Harvard back is among the League's offensive leaders.
Perhaps the difficulty, as Yovicsin has hinted, is that too little attention has been given in practice to backfield problems. Everyone was so worried about the line, and so sure about the backfield, that most of the thinking has been on line work.
But the talent is definitely there. If it emerges this Saturday, Columbia will fall. Dartmouth should be beaten as a matter of general principle. With these two victories behind them, it is not inconceivable Harvard will go all the way, providing of course, Harvard beats Brown.