The offense gets the glory. The defense gets the respect. The special teams gets overlooked. That is often the way it goes in football.
Barring spectacular, breath-taking plays, special teams often go unheralded despite their huge impact on a game and a team. And when a team is 1-6, it is even easier to look past a solid unit.
Harvard football has definitely had a disappointing season to date. Yet in the midst of this frustration, Harvard's special teams have quietly displayed the consistency and occasional flash of brilliance one would not expect to find in a team with a 143 winning percentage.
Saturday's 23-7 loss to Dartmouth was no exception.
The shining star for the Crimson all season long--and a leading candidate for team MVP--has been senior punter Tim Griffin. Griffin is currently ranked second in the Ivy League in punting with a 37.2 yards-per-punt average, and again was one of the bright spots for Harvard versus the Big Green.
Griffin punted seven times for 266 yards and a 38-yard average in dismal weather conditions. Dartmouth was only able to return five of his booming kicks, and even then only for minimal yardage--the Big Green averaged less than four yards per return, thanks in large part to two excellent open-field tackles by junior cornerback Matt Bradley.
Despite a soggy field and a downpour midway through the first half, Griffin still punted beautifully. At one point, he slipped in the muddy sod as he kicked and was still able to get off a 32 yarder.
Griffin's counterpart, John McEwan, did not fare as well, kicking so poorly that sophomore Colby Skelton was only able to get his hands on one punt. That was unfortunate for the Crimson, since Skelton is averaging 9.2 yards per return.
Senior tailback Kweli Thompson had a good day returning kicks. The Big Green kept him busy all afternoon; Thompson returned five kickoffs for 77 yards, including a long return of 24 yards. Luckily for Dartmouth, freshman Troy Jones did not play; Jones is currently ranked eighth in the Ivy League in kickoff returns, averaging 18-yards per return.
Harvard's special teams even provided the highlight of the afternoon for the Crimson against the Big Green. With 22 seconds to play in the first half, senior cornerback Brian Kahn came flying in from the left side to deflect Dave Regula's 35-yard field goal attempt. The ball ricocheted off the outstretched arm of sophomore defensive tackle Jason Hughes and right into the lap of sophomore cornerback Jeff Compas who returned it 18 yards up the left sideline.
The Crimson offense proceeded to run off the remaining time with a kneel down. Maybe it should have punted.