Now that Mother Nature has established herself as the most powerful and respected football entity in the Ivy League, the Harvard-Dartmouth collision in Hanover this afternoon takes on a new meaning for both of the championship hopefuls involved.
Last week's hurricane successfully transformed today's Crimson-Big Green confrontation today from a battle of unbeatens into a struggle for survival. While the winner of the New Hampshire war moves into the driver's seat in the Ivy title express, the loser gets shuffled to the back of the bus with no immediate hope of getting out first.
"We have to get this one," coach Joe Restic said yesterday. "We were ambushed last week by conditions that ruined our entire game plan. There's not much you can do to affect the weather, so all we can do is hope for more favorable conditions this weekend."
Dartmouth showed a similar lack of mud-running ability last week against a slower but stronger Yale squad, and Jake Crouthamel is no doubt echoing Restic's call to the heavens for a clear and dry autumn afternoon which will allow both teams to display their offensive firepower.
"Their team is much like ours," Restic said. "They're quick and fairly small, and they rely on sharp play coordination to overcome a lack of size. The kind of weather we had does nothing to improve the chances of a team like that against a slower opponent."
Restic's always-intricate game plan was tossed out the press box window last week in the face of Ms. Nature's indiscretions, but a week of good work at Soldiers Field has produced another one which promises greater effectiveness against a tough Big Green outfit.
"Defensively, they're very tough, but I think we'll be able to move the ball against them," Restic said. "I can tell you this--we won't be conservative or cautious. We intend to open up as soon as the situation suggests it and, weather permitting, Kubacki could have a big day."
Dartmouth is known for its crowd-the-line tactics of defense, keying on the run to force the opposition into a passing offense. Harvard, possessing one of the most effective aerial attacks in the East, will no doubt choose that option.
"They like to move into an eight man front at times," Restic said. "We want them to commit that extra man to the run, making it difficult for their linebackers to drop into the passing lanes. If we can manage that, things will open up."
The only question mark for Harvard in such a situation will be the physical condition of split end Larry Hobdy, who did not work out at all this week. According to Restic, the sophomore will play, though possibly at less-than-100 per cent efficiency, due to some bruises he picked up in the Cornell game.
A running debate this week has centered around the physical outlook for the Big Green, which may or may not be serious depending on whom you consult. Inside reports from Hanover have star fullback Curt Oberg on the questionable starter list, having suffered a mild shoulder separation in last week's game with Yale. Responding to the reports, Restic harkens back to 1974 when a supposedly injured Tom Fleming ran wild at the Stadium in Dartmouth's 24-18 victory.
"I'm fairly sure he'll play," Restic said. "At least, we're preparing for them as if he is going to be in the starting backfield. We can't afford to overlook a player of his caliber just because someone says he's hurting."
Dartmouth relies offensively on a belly option type offense, with quarterback Kevin Case and halfback Sam Coffey joining Oberg in the fake/pitch-out series. Coffey and Oberg each ran for better than 150 yards in the Big Green's 45-7 destruction of Holy Cross, and Case has shown great improvement since Restic and the Crimson last saw him.
Restic is most concerned with Case's running ability off the option fake, but is aware of his passing ability as well. "He can throw the ball fairly well, and he relies primarily on those short wide-out patterns. They like to isolate their receivers one-on-one with defensive backs in short patterns, something we should be able to contain," Restic said.
The Big Green passing attack is made effective only by Oberg's up-the-middle running. The junior has averaged over five yards per carry this year, and most of it has not been of the easy variety.
"He gets the tough yardage inside, and defensively we'll have to concentrate on that," Restic said. "You can't spread the defense and lean to the outside when a big man like him is chewing up five yards a shot inside. We'll have to stop him first."
That effort will be bolstered by the return of junior defensive end Russ Savage to the lineup for Harvard, after Savage missed last week's game with Cornell. Pat Brady will not be in the lineup at the other end due to an injury.
Despite the obvious difference in offensive emphasis--Dartmouth relies more heavily on the run than Harvard--both teams are remarkably similar in overall balance and defensive effectiveness. Once again, it may be Joe Restic's inventiveness that turns the tide of another big game.
"We hope to surprise them with a few new wrinkles," Restic noted. "We have a few ideas about new things that might work, and there's no reason to hold backnow. It's too important a game to be conservative."