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Three weeks ago this afternoon, while his teammates were beating Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, sophomore Rex Blankenship was throwing a football in the Eliot House courtyard.
At 1:30 p.m. today, Blankenship, from Spiro, Oklahoma, will start at quarterback for the Harvard varsity against Yale at New Haven. He will be the fifth starter that coach John Yovicsin has used at that position this fall, and it clearly shows what kind of a season it has been for Harvard.
The Crimson doomed itself to its first losing season since 1957 by losing to Brown last week, so a loss to Yale will not significantly hurt it in the Ivy standings. But a Harvard victory, no matter how unimpressive, will salvage a measurable amount of self-respect for a squad that has suffered disappointment after disappointment throughout a season in which it was favored to defend a league title.
The Crimson is a heavy underdog at New Haven, however, and with good reason. Its defense has been deeply humiliated for the last two weeks. Princeton scored 51 honest points against it. And Brown, not the most terrifying offensive power in the Ivies, rolled over it for more than 400 yards total offense and four touchdowns.
But there is still a better chance of the defense rebounding to stop the Elis than there is of the Crimson offensive putting together any kind of a balanced, consistent attack. An encouraging performance at Penn three weeks, ago was undermined by a horrible collapse against Princeton, and last week the Harvard defense either scored or set up all 17 of the Crimson's points.
But perhaps the biggest factor working against Harvard is the scant chance of catching Yale psychologically off guard. Although only a handful of players return on either side from last year's 29-29 tie, every member of the Bulldog squad remembers the certain victory that Yale squandered in the final minute, and they are determined that it will not happen again.
Off the Scoreboard
So it is incumbent upon the Harvard defense, primarily, to keep Yale off the scoreboard, and at least from the Crimson's point of view, it will be an easier assignment than it was last year.
Yale ranks behind Harvard in team offense, and has picked up nearly 300 yards less on the ground. Its passing attack has gained only 200 yards more than the Crimson's weak offering, even though quarterback Joe Massey established a Yale season mark for completions last week against Princeton.
So the Eli offensive threat can't nearly match the Dowling-Hill combination that confronted Harvard last fall. But Harvard can't match its offensive power of a year ago either. Its third-place ranking in total offense in the league is misleading, since a majority of the yardage was picked up in statistical romps over Penn and Columbia.
Clearly, the key to a Harvard victory lies in the effectiveness of its defense and its kicking game. With Singleterry leading the league in punting, Harvard seems fairly solid in that department, and Richie Szaro, whose field goals and conversions have made him the top scorer on the Crimson varsity, should be a constant threat.
But it is still conjecture whether Harvard's defense can stop Yale. It is pretty certain that Yale's can stop Harvard. It stopped Princeton last week, and the Tigers looked quite impressive at Cambridge.
But strange things have happened to good Yale teams at the Bowl, and two years ago a Harvard squad, that was as inferior to its Eli counterpart as the Crimson is to the Bulldogs this year, gave Yale fits until the final minute. If the offense moves today, the same could happen again. But one thing is certain. Frank Champi will not come out of the stands and throw Harvard to victory. He is staying in Cambridge to write two papers.
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