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In August, almost the entire Ivy League went on a safari known as the Great Quarterback Hunt. As Harvard coach Joe Restic stalked the practice fields in search of a signal-caller, he didn't ask for the record-breaking passing arm of a Larry Brown or the wily elusiveness of pass-run threat Jim Kubacki.
But he also didn't ask for a rerun of "The Tim Davenport Story," the 1977 choice whose career as a starter was aborted by a broken neck vertabra in the first game of the season.
Restic came out of this year's training camp confident in his choice of Burke St. John. The senior from Chappaqua, New York, is not particularly big; and there was some question as the season opened as to whether he had the arm to exploit the talents of split end Rich Horner.
But St. John learned the Multiflex, showed mobility, and had surprising zip on his passes in the 26-7 victory over Columbia. As Restic said yesterday, "We had been very pleased with Burke's work. He was improving all the time."
With Saturday's knee injury to St. John, it is now time to start over. The Tim Davenport Story has been rerun, but there is no Larry Brown waiting in the wings as a junior with a year of exposure to the system. There is only sophomore Mike Buchanan, who isn't listed under "leading candidates" in this year's football guide and who describes his experience with the freshman team last year as "frustrating" because of a lack of playing time. But Restic said, "We have no choice."
At 7:45 of the second period Buchanan entered the game with the Minutemen leading 3-0. His first handoff to fullback Al Altieri resulted in a fumble that set up a UMass score. The second exchange also was fumbled. Not an auspicious beginning. "We tried to switch something on that first play," he continued, "We had a missed communication in the backfield in both cases, and the backs that were getting the ball thought they were supposed to be blocking." "That can't happen to you if you want to keep up morale," Buchanan said after the game.
Buchanan played his high school ball at Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Ala., as a triple option quarterback. "I like to pitch out on the option and have a perfectly executed play," he said with a smile. He showed this effectively on a drive from the Harvard 36 to the UMass 16 to open the second half.
The Bare Minimum
But Restic kept the offense simple because of Buchanan's lack of experience "The sad part of this," the Crimson coach said, "aside from Burke losing his senior year--which I know is very important to him--is that we've lost so much practice time. That means we're going to have to cut back on offense. We came into training camp looking for a quarterback, and once you find one you have to spend a lot of time working with him. Of course, the danger is that something like this can happen, and you're left with very little experience at that position."
Buchanan recognizes what he is up against. "In games like these, against a team like (UMass), it's a matter of out executing your opponent. I haven't had the experience to where I can do that," he said. "I'm looking forward to this week in practice because it will give me a lot of chance to work."
Statistically, Buchanan's debut was respectable--39 yards rushing on 11 carries and 6 of 13 passing for 83 yards. But overall, the offense lacked everything but penalties. There was scant organization and little variation. Too many of Buchanan's rushing yards were by accident rather than by design.
"I felt like we could win this game, like we could drive the ball," Buchanan said.
'But we did very poorly on first downs, and that dictates how you play the whole series."
For Restic, the job is now, as he puts it, "to go with our strengths, whatever they might be. I look at all the outstanding quarterbacks we've had--Kubacki, Larry Brown--and I don't know if they could have done what they did under these circumstances. We were able to work them in more gradually.
"The thing about Mike," he continued, "is that he's a competitor. I know that. He's a winner. I just wish he had a little more experience."
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