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Harvard football fans are already gearing up for Yale next weekend, but if the Crimson can't come away from Philadelphia with a win over Penn today, The Game will be irrelevant as far as Harvard's Ivy League title hopes are concerned.
The Crimson (5-3 overall, 3-2 Ivy) remains tied with Yale for third place in the Ivy League hunt, one game behind Dartmouth and Cornell. A loss to the Quakers (2-6,2-3) today, and next Saturday's clash with the Elis will be little more than a battle for pride.
"We have to win our next two games to stay in the race," Harvard quarterback Tom Priore said. "Even if we do, our chances are slim."
Penn may not be Harvard's greatest challenge of the season--the Quakers are coming off a 34-20 loss to Princeton in which they gave up 21 points in the first five-and-a-half minutes of play--but don't expect the Quakers to fold so easily at home against Harvard. It hasn't lost to the Crimson at Franklin Field since 1980.
"We know very well what we're going to see," Harvard Defensive Coordinator George Clemens said. "We're going to have to stop an I-type attack for the most part. And we've got to take away the option, especially to the outside."
On the ground, Penn will put the ball in the hands of senior tailback Steve Hooper, who has carried the ball 91 times for 467 yards. But Harvard linebacker Joe Gordian isn't too apprehensive about the Quakers' ground attack.
"Penn traditionally has been a running team," Gordian said. "I expect them to run the ball a lot, and I'm actually pretty psyched about that. If we can get up on them early, they'll start going to the air."
When they do, they will look to go deep to senior flanker Mohamed Ali, who has floated like a butterfly en route to 16 catches for 268 yards.
But a new Quaker will be charged with getting Ali the ball. Penn Coach Gary Steele has decided to bench senior QB Doug Hensch, who has completed 49 percent of his passes for 943 yards while starting the first eight games of the season. Junior Eric Hull will take over the starting job, and sophomore Fitz McKinnon is expected to see first-quarter action, too.
"I can't say our offensive problems are due to Hensch, but we are going to make a change," Steele said.
Regardless of what type of offense Penn shows, Harvard will be sure to keep the pressure on the Quakers. Led by Gordian's 10 sacks, one short of Don Peterson's 1988 single-season Harvard record, the Crimson's swarming defense has dropped opposing signal-callers a team-record 44 times.
"Our defense has kept us in ball games," Harvard Coach Joe Restic said.
"We'll have four or five different blitzes to go after them with," Gordian added. "The key is the faking of the blitz. We'll disguise it well."
D the Key
Clearly, defense is the key area for Harvard, and penn's style plays right into the hands of the Crimson's strengths. The Quakers, who have rushed for 170 yards per game, will be faced with a stingy Crimson defense that has held its opponents to 103 yards per game on the ground.
"Harvard is probably as a good defensive team as we'll see," Steele said. "They're comparable to the Holy Cross front seven."
The offense is another story. The Crimson has had a strong running game, rushing for nearly 1500 yards on the season thanks largely to junior fullback Matt Johnson's 77 carries for 431 yards.
But Harvard quarterbacks have thrown for only 716 yards and connected only four times for touchdowns. Even the Crimson's 52-37 stomping of Brown last week was accomplished mainly by the ground game. Priore, who has sat on the bench for much of the season and has completed only seven of 20 aerial attempts for 100 yards, will be given the starting nod for the second week in a row.
"I'm sure we'll run the option a lot," Priore said. "We'll try to establish the running game. They're a very aggressive defensive team. I'm sure they'll come at us, especially down at Penn."
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