‘Surprise’ Defense Anchors Harvard Title Hopes

Joseph L. Abel

Sophomore defensive lineman Michael Berg hits Columbia quarterback Jeff Otis during the Crimson's 38-0 win at Harvard Stadium Saturday.

Invigorated by Saturday’s blowout win but checked by fresh nerves, Harvard coach Tim Murphy cleared his throat and gazed at the glowing horizon.

What about Penn?

“It’s been this way all the 11 years I’ve been here at Harvard,” Murphy said. “And that is, every year, they’re usually No. 1 in defense. Every single year, they’ve led the league in run defense and scoring defense.”

“And that,” he said, “is why they have so many championships.”

With his own undefeated squad perched in purgatory until next weekend, Saturday’s 38-0 victory against Columbia served relatively little purpose as a grudge win, a primer, or even as a late-season boost.

Mostly, it was a reaffirmation of Harvard’s surprise strength:


“We’re a completely different team than we were a year ago,” Murphy said.

Harvard’s defensive revolution has arrived at a timely juncture.

At this point last season, the Crimson was in collapse mode. From an overtime thriller against Princeton on Oct. 25 to a crippling loss to Columbia on Nov. 8, Harvard ceded an average of 28.6 points in the three games preceding Penn.

During the same window this season, the Crimson has yielded only 8.6 points.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” senior linebacker Bobby Everett said.

Statistics from Saturday’s game illustrate a dominant and thorough defensive effort.

In the air and on the ground, Harvard harassed Columbia’s skill tandem of Jeff Otis and Rashad Biggers the entire game.

Otis, the Lions’ quarterback, completed only eight short passes and was intercepted once before leaving the game in the fourth quarter.

Biggers, the Ivies’ fourth-leading rusher, finished with 31 yards on a per-carry average of 2.5.