Not too many people watching Pete Varney disappear under swarms of Northeastern tacklers during the first few plays of the season thought that Harvard would go into the Yale game with a 6-2 record.
But Varney is back at tight end, and two sophomore backs, Rod Foster and Ted DeMars, are averaging almost six yards a carry. The offensive line is opening holes, and surprisingly enough, Harvard has a chance to beat Yale.
That chance depends largely on the ability of a good running game to do well against a great rushing defense. Harvard has the third best rushing offense in the Ivy League with 1213 yards, but the Elis' defense is second only to Dartmouth in Ivy rushing defense, limiting its opponents to 717 yards in six League games.
Yale has a quick, aggressive defensive line that has stopped everybody except Dartmouth. The left side of the Eli line is particularly outstanding.
"I Don't Know Who Is"
Captain Tom Neville is perhaps the best defensive tackle in the League. "If he isn't All-American, I don't know who is," Yale coach Carm Cozza said after Neville had been in on 27 tackles against Dartmouth.
Hawaiian middle guard Rich Lolotai, known as the Giant Pineapple, is the exception to what is otherwise a fairly small line. Weighing 265 pounds, Lolotai is "very quick for his size," according to Cozza.
Defensive end Jim Gallagher spent most of the last Harvard-Yale game chasing a series of Harvard quarterbacks out of the pocket and on to their backs. He is not big (6'2", 190), but like the rest of the Yale line, he is enormously aggressive.
Yale's aggressiveness is its main defensive strength, but possibly its only weakness as well. The Elis flow quickly with the play, which may make Harvard's recently revived sweep look ready for John Yovicsin's scrap book again, but it may also make Yale susceptible to cutting back across the flow. This is hardly a sure bet, however. Dartmouth used counters to exploit Yale's tendency to overcommit, and "they didn't go much of anywhere," according to Gallhager.
Yale also likes to shift into variations of its 5-2 defense while the opposing quarterback calls his signals, making the defense difficult to read, but also making it vulnerable to a quick snap.
There really aren't any significant weaknesses in the Yale line. Although Harvard has as much chance to move the ball against the Elis on the ground as anyone else, that doesn't mean much. Dartmouth ran on Yale, but Dartmouth should be playing Penn State. No one else has done anything against the Yale defense, including Cornell's Ed Marinaro, who was held to 60 yards.
Harvard's ability to run depends to a large extent on its ability to pass. Qurterback Rod Foster will not continue to rip off six yards a carry on roll-outs if he doesn't start completing more passes. It is possible that Eric Crone would be a more effective quarterback against the Elis. A much better passer than Foster, Crone might have a chance to exploit a Yale defensive secondary that does not compare to the Yale line. Harvard's ends have been open all season, and they'll probably be open again Saturday.
Crone will not have too much time to drop back and look for his free receivers, however. Yale's pass rush has dumped opposing quarterbacks six times in the last two games for minus 49 yards. Crone has shown a tendency to take a lot of time looking for receivers, which is effective against the Brown pass rush, but suicidal against the Yale rush. Screen passes have been useless in trying to slow down the rush as the Elis nailed three screens for no gain in the last two games.
A rushing game that needs a passing game to balance it and a passing game that has been poor most of the season does not leave a very optimistic outlook. Nevertheless, Harvard has scored a lot of points for a team that doesn't pass much, and Foster may be the reason.
The Harvard players are apparently gaining confidence in Foster's ability to pull the Crimson out of jams. Furthermore, Foster is an erratic passer, not a bad passer. He could have a good day against Yale. He certainly is due for one.
"I really don't worry about my passing," Foster said this week. "I don't care how we win." It's hard to conceive of a victory over Yale without a passing game, but no one expected Harvard to beat Princeton by 22 points with a total of 27 yards passing.
And while Harvard is not going to grind it out on the ground against the Elis, the Crimson may be able to break a couple of runs. Foster, Ted DeMars, and Steve Harrison are all breakaway runners, and if they can cut back against the Yale pursuit, there will be plenty of open field to use their speed in.