With a win this Saturday afternoon at Harvard Stadium, the Crimson will accomplish two things it hasn’t been able to since 2008. One, the team will defeat the University of Pennsylvania Quakers, and two, it will clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title.
Having been knocked out of contention by Penn last year, Harvard (7-1, 5-0 Ivy) will look to return the favor to the Quakers (5-3, 4-1), as the Crimson’s league-topping offense faces off against the top-rated Penn defense.
“We know this will be a big challenge, but I think the attitude and the confidence [we have] in each other has been great,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “I think everybody is embracing the situation. Both a chance to win a championship, and a national TV game.”
Last year, the Quakers came into the game against the Crimson needing a win to clinch a share of the league title and came away victorious, utilizing strong performances on both sides of the ball en route to a 34-14 drubbing of Harvard at Franklin Field.
The Crimson has a similar opportunity this year. After beating Brown (7-1, 4-1) earlier in the year, Harvard controls its own destiny, needing only to win the next two games to earn an outright Ivy League Championship.
“The road for Harvard to the Ivy League championship always goes through Penn,” Murphy said. “Part of [this] is [that] they are one of the strongest programs in the league consistently and part of it is where they fall in our schedule.”
The prolific Crimson offense, which has posted 36.5 points per game and 439.2 yard per game in total offense, will look to the crack the stalwart Quaker defense, which has only allowed a league-best 314.2 yards per game.
“They’ve had a great defensive culture in their program for a long time and that hasn’t changed,” Murphy said.
Led by co-captain Erick Rask and his team-leading 71 tackles, Penn will try to stop Collier Winters and the Harvard offensive line, in hopes of earning its 10th straight win against an undefeated Ivy League opponent.
The O-line has been one of the Crimson’s main strengths all year, but last weekend in the first half against Columbia it committed numerous false starts, and Harvard entered the second half tied 14-14 against the last-place Lions.
“It’s not something we’ve done for a long time,” Murphy said. “So it was very much a surprise. But the biggest thing is just reiterating that you have to play with poise, if we’re going to execute, all 11 guys have to play with poise.”
Despite being shut out, 6-0, earlier this year against Brown, the Quakers’ offense has been solid this year as well. The team is led by quarterback Billy Ragone and running back Brandon Colavita.
“Their offense is arguably better than they were a year ago because they’re more multidimensional,” Murphy said.
With a career high 254 yards and three touchdowns in Penn’s 37-9 win against Princeton last weekend, Ragone is in the top-10 in both rushing and passing in the Ivy League, and fourth in total offense.
“They’ve got arguably the best athlete in the league at quarterback in Billy Ragone,” Murphy said. “With his improvisational skills, speed, and just tremendous natural ability to run the football, [Ragone] is a guy you have to account for every snap.”