Everyone always talks about the quarterbacks, Donnie Allard set a Harvard mark with 358 passing yards against UMass a month ago, and Cambridge is still raving about it. Princeton's Bob Holly was a bit more flamboyant as last year's Tiger signal caller. He passed for 501 yards against Yale, which has immortalized him in the eyes of Princeton alumni.
Which leads us to Brent Woods, the current Tiger QB, who looks a lot like last year's edition. Going into Saturday's game against Harvard, he had led the nation in total offense for five weeks in a row. And the Harvard girders, naturally, were expected to lie down and watch this one-man offense pass them into the turf.
Aiding and abetting Harvard skepticism was the situation of adjuster Louis Varsames. Due to a hip pointer suffered in the Dartmouth game. Varsames, a senior, didn't practice all week and planned to see only limited action at Princeton, leaving the secondary almost entirely in the hands of four less-than-experienced juniors.
But despite the media build-up, Woods' aerial circus never got off the ground Saturday. The Crimson secondary continually came up with the big play, appearing to catch as many passes as Princeton's receivers did. In all, four Harvard defenders gathered in six of Woods' throws, good enough for a share of the Ivy League single game record, first set in 1962.
Woods wasted no time in testing Harvard's pass defense, going to the air immediately in the first quarter. On Princeton's first series of downs, the quarterback called three consecutive passes. Then the Tigers punted. With one minute left in the first quarter, the battle between Woods and the Harvard secondary was still a stand-off--Princeton tailback Ralph Ferraro had caught one pass, the Crimson's John Dailey had caught one pass, and seven of Woods' passes had "failed."
Meanwhile, Allard and the Crimson offense had built up a 10-0 lead.
Dailey hauled down his second interception of the day (and the year) late in the fourth quarter, and in between juniors Joe Azelby, Andy Nolan and Chris Myers (2) gathered in four other errant throws by Woods.
The girders' defense withstood Woods' aerial barrage (56 passes) by allowing receivers to come underneath their zone while denying them the long gain. In addition, on obvious passing plays, the Crimson defensive backs would switch from zones to man-to-man coverage, relying on their speed to keep up with Princeton's fastest.
After it was over, free safety Mike Dixon, who had two near-interceptions himself Saturday, explained why the strategy had worked: "We were really breaking on the ball well, so the only thing they got on us were short passes."
True to the state Woods' longest completion was 34 yards exactly half the length of the Rick Stafford-to-John Olejniczak pass that beat cornerback Myers for a 68-yard touchdown in Hanover ten days ago, costing Harvard the game.
Saturday, Woods didn't complete even one TD pass, finishing with a completion percentage of only 38 percent, not including the interceptions.
Harvard Coach Joe Rustic praised Woods--"An exceptional quarterback, no question"--but saved his best words for the job his team did in containing him. "Our defensive unit has kept us in the ballgames... it's gotten strong every week out." Indeed, the Ivy League's best defense hasn't given up more than 17 points in a game this year.
The Crimson pass rush also enjoyed an outstanding day against Princeton, collecting seven sacks at Woods' expense. "We had a Helena rush today," Dailey said after the game, a rush that forced Woods to throw risky passes.
Some days everything works perfectly for a football defense. Saturday was one of those days for Harvard. The secondary doubled its number of interceptions this year, the front four held the Tigers to negative-18 yards rushing, and the defense as a whole limited the potent Princeton attack to 13 points, not counting the intentional safety.
Bring on Brown, I say.