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Football Notebook: Offenses Powered By Unlikely Source

By Daniel E. Fernandez, SPECIAL TO THE CRIMSON

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—By calling it another “classic Harvard-Brown game,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy was likely alluding to the fact that this year’s contest was marked by an abundance of offense from both teams, as has become customary in recent years.

On Saturday, Harvard and Brown combined for eight touchdowns and 885 total yards. Last year, the Crimson racked up 504 yards to the Bears’ 465 en route to a 27-20 win in Cambridge. The year before that, the two teams kept the scoreboard operator busy by combining for 79 points in Neil Rose’s first win as Harvard’s starting quarterback.

Though the Carl Morris-Chas Gessner showdown was hyped as the marquee attraction, both Harvard and Brown focused more on short passes and the ground attack to move the ball down the field.

Brown coach Phil Estes admitted as much, saying that his game plan was to “drive it down and keep [Harvard’s] offense off the field.” The Bears stuck to that strategy in the first quarter, running the ball 13 times in 20 plays and eating up 11:32 of the quarter’s 15 minutes.

Harvard responded to Brown’s clock-devouring drives with a few of its own, primarily on the legs of sophomore quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick had eight runs of more than eight yards and ended the day with 131 yards on the ground—six more rushing yards than the entire Bears team—marking the first time in 10 seasons that a Harvard QB has passed the century mark on the ground.

Not About Four-and-Outs

As further testament to the scintillating execution of both offenses (or, perhaps, the ineffectiveness of both defenses), Harvard and Brown only combined for three punts in the entire game.

Both offensive units were seemingly able to drive at will, converting on an incredible 16-of-19 third downs before the decisive fourth quarter. At one point, Brown converted on seven straight third-downs, including a third-and-10 and a third-and-18.

Not to be outdone, Harvard also pulled out its own third-down conversion magic, converting on 5-of-6 through three quarters, including a third-and-11 and a third-down, 30-yard run by Fitzpatrick to set up the Crimson’s final score.

The high conversion percentages translated into a high total of first downs, which, coincidentally, mirrored the final score exactly—Harvard had 26 to Brown’s 24.

Not So Happily Point After

While Brown’s offense seemed to have little trouble putting the ball in the endzone, the Bears’ special teams unit had some difficulty getting it through the uprights.

Freshman placekicker Paul Christian pulled his first PAT attempt wide right and had his second attempt blocked at the line of scrimmage.

“Those little things make such a big difference in a football game,” Estes said. “From that point on, we had to start going for two.”

Brown indeed tried for two-point conversions after its subsequent two touchdowns, but again failed both times.

Harvard missed a pair of two-point conversions of its own, providing for unconventional football scores of 18-13, 19-18, and 26-18 as the game progressed.

Combined with a 23-yard FG miss by Crimson senior kicker Anders Blewett, more balls ended up sailing wide of the uprights (three) than going through them (two).

Illegal Procedure?

As reluctant as coaches generally are to blame shoddy officiating for a team’s loss, Estes couldn’t help himself after Saturday’s game.

Railing against a fourth quarter offensive pass interference call that negated a huge gain by Gessner, Estes made it clear that he was unhappy with the ruling on the field.

“[The call] wasn’t even close as far as I’m concerned,” Estes said. “I’m probably not supposed to say anthing about the officials ... but that was the difference in the game.”

Estes was particularly perturbed given that his team was only down by two points and that the flag moved Brown from a first-and-goal situation at the Crimson three-yard line to a fourth-and-19 from the Crimson 38.

The referees were also the center of attention on another critical play later in the fourth quarter.

With Brown backed up to its two-yard line with two minutes left, Bears QB Kyle Slager was about to be sacked in the end zone when he dropped the ball and Harvard pounced on it. It appeared like a fumble, though the referees ruled it an incomplete forward pass.

A livid Murphy exploded on the sidelines, since the call gave Brown another shot at continuing its last-ditch drive. In fact, the Crimson had to burn a timeout because the offense had come on the field to kneel out the clock as the Brown offense was about to run a play.

Murphy refused to comment on the play after the game, although Estes later conceded that “it probably should have been a safety.”

—Staff Writer Daniel E. Fernandez can be reached at dfernand@fas.harvard.edu

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