No Defense for Crimson’s Performance

The Ladies' Dan

The few intrepid souls who braved the cold, rainy weather at Harvard Stadium on Saturday were at least rewarded with an impressive show of offensive firepower, courtesy of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carl Morris and Rodney Byrnes.

Fitzpatrick threw for 353 yards (the fourth highest total in school history), Morris hauled in 11 catches (including a simple screen pass that the senior All-American took 54 yards for a score) and Byrnes contributed to his burgeoning highlight reel with an electrifying 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

All told, the Crimson amassed 52 points and nearly 400 yards of total offense. The only people on the field worthy of more pity than the Cornell defenders were the Harvard cheerleaders, who had to do a combined 232 push-ups thanks to the exorbitant score.

It’s easy to get carried away by such a lopsided result. The offense is firing on all cylinders despite a change in quarterbacks, and Harvard has now scored at least four touchdowns in 13 straight games. The win over Cornell marks the Crimson’s ninth straight over league opponents and Harvard’s 2-0 Ivy mark after this weekend puts it in sole possession of first place.

Time to start thinking about the repeat, right?

Well, as loathe as I am to quote the irrepressibly annoying Lee Corso, he probably puts it best—“not so fast, my friends.”

Before we just hand a second straight Ivy title to Harvard, consider a crucial difference from last year’s squad—the defense.

The 2001 Crimson defense—anchored by defensive end Marc Laborsky ’02, cornerback Willie Alford ’02 and then-sophomore linebacker Dante Balestracci, all of them all-Ivy selections—allowed a respectable 20.4 points per game and gave up more than 21 points only three times in nine games.

Compare that to the numbers from this year’s defensive unit. Through four games, the Crimson is giving up 26.5 points per game (a full touchdown ahead of last year’s pace) and has allowed all of its opponents to score more than 21 points.

Even in the afterglow of Saturday’s resounding victory, Harvard coach Tim Murphy admitted that he is troubled by the lack of consistency of his defensive corps.

“I’ll be very upfront, I think [the defense] is a concern,” he said. “The glass was certainly half full today with the way our offense played.”

But for Byrnes’ kickoff return, an unintended Rodney Thomas touchdown in garbage time and a fortuitous touchdown grab by Kyle Cremarosa off a deflection, Harvard would have found itself where it’s been in all of its games this season—barely ahead of an opponent who had been controlling the time of possession by driving and scoring on its defense.

And it’s that empty half of the glass that should trouble followers of Harvard football. Up to this point in the season, the Crimson has relied on its quick-strike capabilities on offense to get into the lead and give the defense something to protect.

But what if the offense should fail to be its usual, efficient force? Look no further than Harvard’s streak-breaking 36-35 loss to Lehigh last weekend.

The offense had staked Harvard to a 35-21 lead going into the fourth quarter, only to watch that margin evaporate as the Mountain Hawks drove steadily on the Crimson and scored three times. Unable to produce any more magic, the offense sputtered and could not respond.

It was the first time in a long, long time that the Harvard defense had failed to hang on to a fourth-quarter lead, especially one of that size. It wasn’t the Ivy title defense of a year ago by any stretch of the imagination.