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"When I look at where we're at coming back--only two starters returning on offense and four on defense--it worries me. That [type of situation] always concerns me because you have to have a proven nucleus on either side of the ball to get it done."--Harvard Coach Joe Restic in late August.
Now, halfway into the Harvard football season, Restic's concerns have been largely assuaged.
Both the Crimson offense and defense have gelled as the gridders have stormed to a surprising 4-1 record (2-1 Ivy) and proven themselves as serious contenders for the Ivy crown.
The Crimson is in a virtual tie with Penn, Princeton, and Cornell--all one-half game behind first-place Brown.
Though Harvard's schedule the rest of the way is probably the toughest in the league (the Crimson has already played league patsies Columbia and Dartmouth), the gridders are in a far better position at the halfway point than anyone expected before the season began.
Here, then, is a position-by-position mid-season report card on the Crimson, and a prognosis for the remaining five games.
Quarterback: In junior Tom Yohe, Harvard has possibly the top QB in the Ivies and quite probably the best passer in Crimson history. Yohe will almost certainly break every major single-season school passing record this year, and his scrambling, roll-out style has coaches and defenders trembling all over the league.
Yohe gives the Crimson a constant long-ball threat, and the ability to come back from almost any deficit. A top contender for Ivy Player of the Year honors, Yohe is clearly the key to this team. Grade: A.
Running Back: Tailback Rufus Jones has yet to come back from his two-year-old leg injury (he is "doubtful" for this Saturday's Princeton game, but "could be ready" for Brown). His outside speed would give Harvard an added dimension; as it is, the backfield trio of Dave Bunning, Tony Hinz, and Bob Glatz has done a respectable job.
All three are capable runners and, perhaps more importantly, fine receivers. Hinz had an outstanding game against the Big Green, gaining 152 yards on just 12 carries. Bunning and Glatz have also had big days. This unit wouldn't be enough to carry the Crimson, but compliments Harvard's pass-oriented offense. Grade: B.
Receivers: Neil Phillips runs fly patterns and makes diving touchdown catches. Tight end Kent Lucas rambles across the middle and snares balls out of mid air. Brian Barringer could run his 12-yd. curl-in patterns blindfolded in a blizzard.
Every great quarterback needs a great receiving corps, and Yohe is blessed this year with a bevy of quality receivers. Grade: A-minus.
Offensive Line: The big boys up front have done a solid job up front protecting Mr. Yohe, although: a)their job is made easier by the fact that Yohe scrambles out of the pocket on nearly every play, and b)their job is made harder by the fact that Yohe scrambles out of the pocket on nearly every play.
The run blocking has been fine, although against the big Northeastern squad the line had problems opening up any holes. This unit, like the entire Crimson squad, has been penalty prone. Grade: B.
Defensive Line: Harvard's massive front five has anchored the defensive team. Despite Captain Kevin Dulsky's injury problems, and end Greg Williams's eligibility problems, the line has held game after game.
Harvard's league foes have averaged only 63 rushing yards a game (best in the Ivies), and non-league opponents haven't fared much better. A solid, fearsome unit. Grade: A-minus.
Linebackers: From being unknowns at season's start, Kris Thabit and Richard Mau have become Harvard's most pleasant surprise of the year. The pair played outstandingly against Northeastern's Wishbone formation, and solidly ever since. Grade: B-plus.
Defensive Secondary: The opposing quarterback drops back to pass. Uh-oh. His receivers sprint deep into the Harvard secondary. Uh-oh. The QB unleashes a pass. Double uh-oh.
The Harvard secondary looked like the team's weakest link in the preseason, and it still does today. Frank Caprio leads the Ivies with three interceptions, but overall this unit has proven a disappointment.
In the Crimson's sole loss at Cornell, the secondary got burned on a number of occasions. The group has also been whistled for pass interference on far too many occasions. Grade: C-minus.
Special Teams: Punter Alan Hall started out the season woefully, but has improved steadily ever since. Place-kicker Bruce Jacob has been perfect on his extra points, but missed a crucial pair of field goals at Cornell. Overall, Restic has gone for it on a surprisingly high number of fourth downs this year, indicating he doesn't have a lot of trust in his kickers. Harvard's kick coverage has been average.Grade: C-plus.
Outlook: Saturday's contest at the Stadium against Princeton is a key match-up. Harvard has looked good all year, but has yet to defeat a significant Ivy foe.
If the Crimson wins Saturday, a share of the Ivy title is a definite possibility--and next weekend's game at Brown becomes the next big hurdle to overcome. Harvard hasn't won or shared the Ivy title since 1983, but this could be the year.
However, a loss against the Tigers could all but sink the Crimson's chances. With the league this tight, two league losses is probably one too many. Remember, though, that Princeton comes in this weekend in the same do-or-die situation.
It should be, all in all, quite a contest.
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