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Harvard's failed bid for its first 3-0 start since 1987 allowed Bucknell to improve to 4-0 on the season. That mark stands as Bucknell's best since 1954. The win also seems to put the Bison in the driver's seat to repeat as Patriot League champions, though five of the team's remaining seven games will be on the road.
Senior split end Colby Skelton's had a record-breaking day. His five receptions for 106 yards yesterday made Skelton Harvard's all-time career reception leader with 109, surpassing Pat McInally '75.
But records aside, the final score left a bitter taste in the wideout's mouth. "The record is nice," Skelton said. "But the game is the most important thing to me."
Though the record doesn't ensure success for the team, it does signal a return to prominence for Harvard's most dangerous receiver, who underwent surgery in the off-season to repair an ACL torn in last November's victory over Yale. Coming into yesterday's contest, Skelton had made just one catch for nine yards in the first two games. Yesterday, however, Skelton's speed and athleticism was clearly a force.
"I feel real good. I [rehabilitated myself] hard this summer...and I'm not feeling any effects now," Skelton said.
Second Half Slumps
Although Harvard's fast starts have allowed the team to play with a lead for most of the season, it has not kept up that execution into the second half, and the slow finishes finally caught up with the Crimson yesterday.
After outscoring its first three opponents 41-7 in the first quarter, Harvard has not scored a single point in the fourth quarter, while its opponents have put up 24. Saturday, Harvard's offense could muster only 26 yards in the fourth quarter.
"If you get [up big early] you've got to be able to put them away...that's something we've really talked about this season," said Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
Maybe Harvard should be taking notes from its opponent Saturday on how to perform down the stretch. Bucknell has won its four games this season by a combined total of only 17 points. Bucknell has outscored its opponents 21-9 in the fourth quarter during that stretch. Indeed, during Bucknell Coach Tom Gadd's tenure, the Bison are now 8-3 in games decided by four points or less, and have won the five such games.
The Harvard defense's extreme emphasis on plugging the middle may need to be re-examined after the aerial assault and end-around running blitz the Crimson have endured the last two weeks.
The Bison ran only three plays between the tackles on Saturday, netting zero yards, in the second half before the team's final possession when it solely sought to run out the clock. Meanwhile, Bucknell racked up 116 yards rushing at the corner of the Harvard defense, and 88 yards passing, averaging 6.7 yards-per-pass play.
After the game, it seemed that Harvard had a mind set from day one that never changed, and Bucknell knew exactly what that mind set was and simply exploited it.
On the one side:
"Our defense is set up to stop the run," said captain and right tackle Brendan Bibro. "Their offensive line played hard, and we lost containment [too often]."
On the other:
"Their linebackers are big physical kids," said Bucknell sophomore quarterback Don McDowell. "We weren't going to push them back, but they commit so many men to the run that we knew there would be other openings."
Murphy has said that the difference in this year's team is speed, more than he's seen while at Harvard. It just makes you wonder why he isn't using it when the dam is breaking at the corner of the defense.
Harvard wasn't getting beat at the corner, it was simply caught up in the line. Asked to describe his 30-yard bootleg in the third quarter, McDowell said, "I just got to the outside, and there was no one there."
If you're looking for a turning point in the game, it may very well be Bucknell freshman safety Kevin Elben's interception in the endzone with 1:45 remaining in the first half.
At third-and-six from the Bucknell 22-yard-line, with Harvard leading 20-14, sophomore quarterback Rich Linden found Skelton in single coverage on the left sideline, and threw the ball to his top target on a slant route.
The Bucknell cornerback had good coverage, and the ball bounced off Skelton's pads into the waiting arms of Elben, who was still five yards late rotating over to help his cornerback.
The pass may have been a bit forced, but anytime a quarterback can find his most athletically gifted receiver in single coverage in the endzone, he likes his chances. Herman Moore and Michael Irvin make a living by winning jump-balls in the endzone. Only in bizarre situations-such as a deflection-should a well-thrown ball, as Linden's was, be intercepted. It just didn't work out for the Crimson.
"It was a big play [for Bucknell]," Murphy said. "But it was also a chance to put the game away, which we have stressed."
After being sacked just once in the first two games, Rich Linden was taken down four times in Saturday's contest, and repeatedly found himself on his back after releasing the ball.
Bucknell's zone blitz defense, in which defensive lineman drop into coverage in place of a blitzing linebacker or defensive back, obviously confused a Harvard offensive line that in previous games had been gotten used to dominating the line of scrimmage.
"I give credit to [Bucknell's] defense," Murphy said. "They had a lot better rush on us than we had seen on film."
The biggest wrinkle unveiled by either team was undoubtedly Bucknell's wishbone-style quarterback option, installed only in the week leading up to the game in an attempt to counter Harvard's rushing might.
"We knew Harvard runs well, and we had to be able to run [to be competitive]," McDowell said.
For one who has been at the helm of the option for a matter of days, McDowell looked remarkably comfortable making quick decisions at the corner of the defense. Running the option at least once in almost every possession, McDowell made a costly mistake only once: a bad pitch to freshman running back promptly fell on for a loss of seven yards.
McDowell's confidence with the ball and quick study of the intricacies of the quarterback option may very well have made the difference in Bucknell's finding a viable running game.
"I really like running [the option," McDowell said. "I like being [on the corner of the defense], and I feel comfortable out there."
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