Crunch Time for Murphy's Team

* Will the Team Murphy Built Finally Deliver?

Harvard football is at a crossroad.

In 1997 its offense will usher out the Eion Hu '97 era, riding instead the young arm of sophomore quarterback Rich Linden, the young legs of second-year running back Chris Menick and the surgically repaired right knee of senior wideout Colby Skelton.

Harvard's defense will be faced with the formidable task of topping its eye-opening performance of last season by doing just as good a job against the run while adjusting to opposing passing attacks.

And Tim Murphy, the Crimson's fourth-year coach, will be saddled with the pressure of finally guiding a team that he himself built.

Harvard is a team of question marks, but that's why it plays the games.

The Offense: The Next Eion?

The one certainty for Harvard's offense is that nothing is certain.

No longer can Murphy hand the ball to Hu 20 times a game and pray for the best.

At 3,073 yards over a three-year career, Hu is Harvard's all-time leading rusher. He carried the ball more than 200 times every year of his career, including a school-record 250 times last season.

Perhaps more importantly, Hu always seemed to save his best efforts for the biggest games, rushing for 497 yards in his three Harvard-Yale matchups. In short, he is the greatest running back in Harvard history.

"Having to replace Eion Hu is going to be a challenge," Murphy said. "We think we can replace him by committee. With [Menick, Junior Troy Jones, sophomore Damon Jones and freshman Chuck Nwokocha], we're going to have a good running back crew; we just need to see who's going to be the go-to guy."

Murphy can only hope Menick's performance during the team's spring trip to Japan presages things to come. The sophomore tailback, who was second on the team with 326 rushing yards in 1996, ran for 265 yards and scored five touchdowns in a 42-35 comeback win over Kyoto University.

Troy Jones is a speedy back who has yet to play as well as advertised, and Damon Jones should start at fullback.

The success of the running game will no doubt depend largely on the offensive line, which took a big blow with the loss of former captain Sean Riley '97, Harvard's sole First Team All-Ivy selection from last season. Senior Dave Elliott will move from the guard position to replace Riley at right offensive tackle.

Joininh Elliott on the line will be senior tackle Matt Birk, a two-year starter who has impressed in preseason, juniors Mike Shreve and Alex Garcia at the guard spots and junior Will Ratcliffe at center.