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Both Harvard and Yale boast one player who has essentially taken every important snap on the season for his team. Crimson fans know all about captain Ryan Fitzpatrick and his sensational career. Fitzpatrick has accounted for 16 total touchdowns while transfixing opposing defenses with his ability to make plays on the run. Coming into the season, many would have said Yale fifth-year senior Alvin Cowan could make a legitimate case that he was right there with Fitzy, but his inability to put Yale over the top this year has dealt a blow to the Bulldogs. He has thrown for more passing yards than Fitzpatrick, but he simply hasn’t been able to run the ball or do the same kinds of things that Fitzpatrick does at the end of games to win. On both sides, the backup situation is stable but not ideal. It’s safe to say that neither starter will come out of his final contest unless his arm is detached from his shoulder.
Anyone who has watched a Crimson football game over the past two years knows all about sophomore tailback Clifton Dawson. The speedy Canadian is well on his way to breaking almost every single rushing record in the Harvard record books. Despite many injuries at the fullback position, converted linebacker Mike Lucas has filled in nicely in recent weeks. Lining up at tailback for Yale will be senior Robert Carr. The three year starter has gained 1,129 yards on the year and has cemented his place as one of the best backs in Yale history. Still, you would be hard-pressed to find an NFL scout who would tell you that Carr has the same kind of explosiveness or ability to read defenses that makes Dawson a special player. Yale plays more of a pro-style offense with Cowan dropping back and they do not have a fullback who carries the ball.
The Crimson has senior Brian Edwards along with sophomore Corey Mazza lining up outside in Murphy’s base sets. With defenses throwing double teams at Edwards early in the season, Mazza became Fitzpatrick’s primary receiver. But as Mazza emerged as a serious deep threat causing defenses to shade safeties in his direction, Edwards has taken advantage of the single coverage in the second half. Junior Ryan Tyler has been a quality third receiver, catching 20 balls on the season. Tyler—who converted this season to receiver after Dawson’s emergence as the go-to tailback—has made big plays on slants and ins. Fitzpatrick has used the tight end sparingly by the goal line, throwing to senior Adam Jenkins and junior Jason O’Neill a combined 10 times on the season. Yale, however, has a deeper and more experienced receiving corps, with senior Ralph Plumb being Cowan’s number one target. Plumb has been starting for three seasons, and he has established himself as Cowan’s favorite receiver, catching 68 balls for 861 yards and five scores this season. Junior Chandler Henley, who has caught 44 balls, has been the big-play threat for Cowan on the year, notching 44 catches for 642 yards and six TDs. Cowan also has been known to look for players out of the backfield.
Senior left tackle NFL prospect Rory Hennessey anchors a Yale offensive line that has been more consistent than Harvard’s all season. While the Bulldog front five plays two seniors—Hennessey and right guard Anthony Bellino, along with three sophomores—the Harvard offensive line has been plagued by injuries all season. Seniors Mike Frey, Brian Lapham, Andy Smith, and John Bechdol have moved in and out all year while Murphy and his staff have used junior C/G Will Johnson to move along the line and serve as an anchor.
Despite early concerns about replacing All-Ivy defensive end Brian Garcia, the Harvard defensive ends have been stellar all season. Freshman Desmond Bryant—known as ‘The Freak’ by his teammates due to his uncanny resemblance in playing style to Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse—has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Ivy League with four sacks and six tackles for a loss. Sophomore Michael Berg and junior Erik Grimm rotate in at defensive end for the Crimson, and both have played well despite injury problems. At tackle, the Crimson has seniors Matt McBurney and Coesen Ngwun, who have both proved to be effective run-stoppers. Murphy will rotate defensive line players on almost every series. Yale’s defensive line has simply not been able to make the necessary stops to finish out ballgames. In Jack Siedlecki’s base 5-2 set, senior Don Smith and junior Brandon Dyches will line up at defensive end. Inside, the Bulldogs will likely have promising freshman Brandt Hollander and junior Andrew Ralph at defensive tackle while senior Willie Cruz will line up on the nose.
The Harvard linebacking corps is undoubtedly stronger than it was a year ago. This seems hard to believe after the graduation of captain and four-year starter Dante Balestracci ’04. But junior Matt Thomas and senior Bobby Everett have been the leaders on defense for Harvard, racking up impressive numbers against both the pass and run. With Everett drawing many double teams, Thomas has had the space to put up impressive numbers—mounting up eight sacks and 75 tackles on the season. But Murphy credits Everett with leading the defense from the outside position while senior Sean Tracy will come up and play in the box on run situations or drop back and play safety in passing situations. Yale will have seniors Ben Breunig and Colin Harris playing linebacker in the 5-2, but they aren’t the same kind of big play threats that Everett and Thomas are. Breunig has led the Bulldogs on defense with 91 tackles on the season.
This is a position where Harvard clearly has the edge, yet will be challenged by a formidable Yale receiving corps. The Harvard cornerbacks—senior Gary Sonkur, junior Keith Howell and sophomore Danny Tanner—rotate in and out. In addition, Harvard has played more man-to-man coverage with safety help as the year has gone on. Last week against Penn, with the Ivy championship on the line, Sonkur had an interception. Of course, fans who were at The Game last year will remember Sonkur’s interception return for a touchdown to seal the victory for Harvard. While Tracy will play up and back at safety, senior Ricky Williamson will also move around in different looks to try to confuse the Yale receiving corps. The new face of the Harvard secondary could be freshman Doug Hewlett, who has seen increased playing time and anchors a strong class of freshman defenders.
Throughout the season, Siedlecki’s secondary has been unable to stop opposing quarterbacks from throwing the ball downfield, as Brown’s Joe DiGiacomo, Cornell’s D.J. Busch and Penn’s Pat McDermott all were able to expose the Yale secondary on their way to defeating the Bulldogs. Look for senior Yale free safety Barton Simmons to help stop Dawson in run defense while senior cornerback Fred Jelks will probably try to shut down Brian Edwards.
No one in the Ivy League that has seen Brian Edwards return punts could deny that he is the best in the league and one of the best in Division I-AA. He will not fair-catch, so he is virtually always a threat to return every punt for a score. Henley has had an average season returning punts, but he has not taken one back for a touchdown. Edwards and junior Corey Waller will return kicks for Harvard. Edwards has also had success at kickoff returner, taking back one for a touchdown and averaging 27.5 yards per return. Carr will be Yale’s primary kick returner, but he does not possess the same kind of game-breaking speed and vision as Edwards. Freshman kicker Matt Schindel has done a nice job for the Crimson while sophomore punter Clem McDavid has performed well in the absence of injured junior Mike King. Senior Bulldog kicker Andrew Sullivan has had a difficult season for Yale, only making five of 11 field goals, but junior punter Tyson Crawford has a solid leg.
—Staff writer Robert C. Boutwell can be reached at email@example.com.
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