Something began happening to the Harvard offense early in Saturday's game--slowly, then suddenly, the offense just vanished, simply disappeared from the playing surface.
How could it happen? This was the Harvard offense--the exalted Multiflex--and Joe Restic teams are rarely shut out. But this team wasn't only shut out. They were completely dominated at the line, in the air and in the backfield--a regular Marine Corps stomping. Harvard once made it as far as the Yale 24, and by the end of that drive. Steve Flach was punting from the 44. Harvard finished with minus 11 yds. rushing. It was that kind of day.
The crowd's chosen villain was quarterback Brian Buckley. The senior certainly had an off day in his final college contest, but blaming him exclusively would be an egregious oversimplicifcation. Restic couldn't name one thing that hurt his team most, just "circumstances," and his usual response when defending the Multiflex. "We just couldn't execute."
Indeed they couldn't. Time after time, a play would develop only to have the key variable fail at the last moment. Restic said last night. "The Multiflex was more effective in this game than in any game this year," an odd claim for a shutout. But he conceded the parts of the offense never worked at the same time: a receiver would get open. Buckley would get sacked; a halfback would get the ball and a key block would be missed; and, most obvious to those in the stands, Buckley would miss open receivers.
The biggest problem came at the line of scrimmage: Yale dominated it. Given great field position (first down at the Eli 37 twice in the first half). Harvard could not establish its running game. Fullback Jim Callinan, hero of last year's game with 73 yds. rushing, ran the ball only nine times for 30 yds. Halfback Tom Beatrice, the team's leading ground-gainer, carried the ball but three times for two yds. net.
Down just 7-0 at the half, Restic still had time to resurrect his running game, but a fumble on the second half kickoff let Yale surge to a 14-0 advantage. Anxious to use the big tailwind, Restic ordered Buckley to throw in the third quarter; it didn't work. And by the time Harvard had wrested the ball from the ball-control Yale offense. Buckley had to go to the air again because time was running out. Besieged by a huge Yale pass rush (which could afford to blitz because it was not worried by the still-frail Buckley running the ball), and overwhelmed by a gusty wind, Buckley searched fruitlessly for the big play in the final quarter.
Several factors might have saved the Crimson from that grim predicament. Flanker Ron Cuccia, who wound up with four catches for 46 yds., was underutilized throughout. Buckley never got Cuccia the ball in the first half, even though he was single covered (and not very well at that). And then Harvard needed the big play later on, the fleet former quarterback was not summoned for a reverse or flea-flicker. Buckley also stopped throwing to his backs in the second half, something he had done successfully all season long.
"Not our day," was the most common explanation in the lockerroom. And probably the most accurate. The talk, as always, turned to next year, and New Haven, November 21, 1981. The Yalies got their revenge this year; now the Harvard offense has a debt to settle.