Red Zone Defense Torpedoes Yale Offense

In spite of Cowan’s heroics, Yale can’t get by stingy Crimson defense

Brian M. Haas

Junior linebacker BOBBY EVERETT (43) and senior running back COLLIN BLACKBURN (46) were among Harvard’s stingy defenders.

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Numbers alone won’t tell you what happened on Saturday.

34-64, 438. Those are the final stats on Yale quarterback Alvin Cowan, in completions, attempts and passing yards. That last figure is a new Bulldog record. So is 466, representing Cowan’s total offensive yardage on the day.

158, 132, 94, 91. Those are the yards amassed by each of Yale’s top four receivers—Ralph Plumb, Nate Lawrie, Ron Benigno and Chandler Henley.

32:46. That was Yale’s time of possession during The Game. The Bulldogs held the ball more than five minutes longer than Harvard did.

Nevertheless, despite Yale's offensive numbers blowout, it was the Crimson defense that ultimately keyed victory in The Game.

All day long, the Crimson blitz had Cowan—the Ivy League’s top-rated passer—scrambling backwards and sideways, going to extremes to get rid of the ball. And although Cowan was sacked only twice, he was hit—and hit hard—by captain linebacker Dante Balestracci and junior linebacker Bobby Everett on several occasions and hurried on countless others.

Cowan said he did not think he had been pressured that much all year.

“[Harvard] [leads] the league in sacks for a reason,” Cowan said.

“They were coming,” said Plumb, who had 15 catches. “[Cowan] had little or no time.”

But even if Cowan was forced to struggle all game to avoid ending up on a stretcher, he still performed well under the pressure, leading Division I-AA’s second-best offense down the field.

So what was Yale’s problem? How did the Bulldogs end up with 19 points, their lowest total of the entire season—a number Plumb called “laughable”?

Harvard’s red-zone defense was stingy. Very stingy.

So stingy that, in six tries within the Crimson 20-yard line, Yale scored only one touchdown and kicked two field goals.

So stingy that the same team that scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to overcome a 24-3 deficit against Penn at one point this season could not muster that many scores against Harvard in the entire game yesterday.

“We made the big stop, and all of a sudden they realized this wasn’t just going to be like the Penn game,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy.

That “big stop” Murphy was referring to may have been the greatest momentum shift of the game for Harvard.