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BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania-Less than two weeks ago, The Crimson ran a football preview which stated:
"In 1997 [Harvard's] offense will usher out the Eion Hu '97 era, riding instead on the young arm of sophomore quarterback Rich Linden..."
The general consensus among football prognosticators seemed to be that if this team were to win, it would be behind the capable might of Harvard's defensive unit, which returned all 11 starters from a year ago.
The offensive firepower for the '97 campaign was to be provided by the solid arm of Linden and swift feet of all-purpose wideout senior Col-by Skelton.
As for the running game, Harvard Coach Tim Murphy called the advent of the post-Hu era "a challenge," and hoped only to "replace him by committee."
Two weeks into the season, some of the predictions have panned out. Forgetting for a minute Harvard's fourth-quarter collapse in Saturday's victory at Lehigh, the defense gave up only 13 points and 434 yards in seven quarters, and indeed was ranked among the Top 20 in NCAA I-AA in four defensive categories after the first week.
Rich Linden has six touchdown passes in two weeks, sports a 54-percent completion rate and carried a ridiculous 141.35 quarterback rating into Saturday's contest.
But this clearly is not the whole story. Skelton does not have a single catch this season, and Harvard's supposedly medicore offense has had to overcome a worrisome propensity by the defense to give up the big play. Fully four of the six touchdown plays yielded by the Harvard defense this year have been 24 yards or longer.
Instead of defense or a big play offense, the real weapon exhibited by the '97 Crimson thus far has been a brutal steamroller of a running game.
Harvard has racked up 282 yards-per-game on the ground, accounting for 60-percent of the Crimson's total offensive output.
This production is coming three-and-a-half months after Hu and his 3,000 career yards were lost to graduation.
If you watch the offense for a quarter or so, the apparent depth and talent at running back is so amazing that you begin to wonder if this isn't really a huge state school tailback farm ala Joe Paterno and State College, PA.
It does not even seem to matter who takes the ball for the Crimson; he suddenly looks like Barry Sanders.
Harvard junior back Troy Jones had a performance good enough to repeat as Athlete of the Week-he ran for 97 yards on 20 carries Saturday-but he would most likely be eclipsed by another in his own backfield.
Sophomore Chris Menick had 121 yards on 15 carries including a rushing touchdown, and an 18-yard touchdown reception Saturday.
Last year, Hu worked for his impressive rushing statistics. He bowled over defenders in his path and made the tough extra yard. This year, the running backs seem to be working almost as hard as a second semester senior without a thesis.
Jones picked up nine, 13,11 and eight yards in his first four runs, and at no point was he touched within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Clearly Jones' 4.49 second 40-yard-dash speed is a huge factor, but Jones was working with holes large enough for the proverbial Mack truck.
The backs clearly have stepped up in a big way to fill Hu's absence-Menick's 56-yard third quarter touchdown run, juking six Engineer defenders, including four at once, is clearly ESPY material-but Harvard's offensive line has been so dominant that almost anyone could put up respectable numbers.
Harvard's starting front five of senior Matt Birk, junior Mike Shreve, junior Dean Jacobsen, senior Glenn Warner and sophomore Dave Elliot, weigh in at an average of 277 pounds, a figure which is solid at the I-A level. In I-AA, it gives the Crimson a massive anchor in front.
So effective was the Crimson line that on third and goal from the one-yard line early in the third quarter, Harvard ran the obvious-a counter to Jones, who walked into the left side of the endzone completely untouched.
Eleven Engineer defenders keyed in on Jones could not get within striking distance.
"They had a real good offensive line," said Lehigh linebacker Durrell Riggins. "They double teamed consistently, and beat us to the spot on counter plays. [The Harvard line] got a good push off the ball and drove us back."
The Harvard offensive line has also been instrumental in allowing Linden to rack up his impressive passing statistics. Saturday's game featured only one sack by Lehigh, and even that could only one sack by Lehigh, and even that could only be termed a "coverage sack," as Linden had plenty of time to get rid of the ball, but was unable to find an open receiver.
"The offensive line is going well," Linden said. "They've given me plenty of time to throw the ball."
And it is not only the offensive line's shear bulk that makes it such a force. Harvard's linemen have also shown speed and quickness in setting up end-arounds and receiver screens.
Harvard's first score on Saturday, a 28-yard interior screen to sophomore flanker Terence Patterson, was largely keyed by a block from Jacobson 10 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage.
"We let them get too many big plays. They ran a couple of screens that really got away from us," Riggins said of Lehigh's inability to contend with Harvard's dominating line.
Obviously, it would seem that flash and "skill positions" aren't all that Harvard has to rely on in the '97 campaign.
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