On a dirt field somewhere in middle America, a far-too-intense defensive coordinator is screaming at some panting high schoolers, “offense sells tickets but it’s defense that wins championships.” Well, rumor has it Harvard coach Tim Murphy is looking for his 10th Ivy League championship.
If the last two games are any indication, Harvard may be well on its way. The Crimson has fielded a starting 11 that have been all but perfect in the last two contests, allowing a combined four points in the first three quarters of each of those games.
Last weekend’s 41-2 victory was a particularly powerful showcase of Harvard’s defensive prowess. Facing off against Georgetown in the nation’s capital, the Crimson company held their opponents to four points and 201 total yards, a mere 46 of which were earned on the ground.
Harvard’s first major defensive strike of the game came as Georgetown threatened to tie the score at seven early in the first quarter. Driving toward the Crimson goal line, Georgetown junior quarterback Clay Norris was buried by senior defensive tackle Stone Hart, who knocked the ball out of Norris’ grasp and halted the incursion into Harvard territory. The sack was one of two that resulted in Norris coughing up the ball. In total, the Crimson defense racked up four sacks on the day, dropping Norris 36 yards.
The Georgetown quarterback didn’t just struggle to get the ball out of his hands, but had difficulty getting it past Harvard’s secondary as well, finishing the game 13 of 29 through the air. The backbreaker came early in the second when a toss from Norris was grabbed by Crimson senior cornerback Raishaun McGhee and returned to the house. With the 21-point lead, Harvard didn’t look back.
In its Ivy League opener against Brown in front a friendly crowd, Harvard showed a similar defensive domination—at least for the first three quarters.
The Bears didn’t achieve a first down until their seventh drive of the afternoon, discounting a Crimson penalty late in the first quarter. The team’s first six drives totaled 33 yards, and at the half, Brown had earned just nine rushing yards and 67 through the air.
At the end of the third quarter, the Bears brought senior quarterback Thomas Linta in off the bench. The veteran scored 26 points nearly singlehandedly, dragging Brown back into the game just before time expired and spoiling the defensive shutout that Harvard had maintained until the fourth quarter.
Prior to the matchup with Brown, the Crimson defense had not been as exceptional. The defining moment for the team came before the end of the first half against Rhode Island freshman cornerback Ben Abercrombie sustained an injury.
Pursuing the Rams wide out toward the sideline, Abercrombie pushed him out of bounds but remained on the ground after the sound of the whistle. He has since undergone surgery for a major neck injury at a Rhode Island hospital.
Since the end of that first half, Harvard’s defense has played with a chip on its shoulder, dominating opponents and daring quarterbacks to drop back and thrown. The ferocity with which the Crimson curtain has responded to the loss of one of its own has been impressive.
It will now likely extend that defensive dominance this weekend in the matchup against conference rival Cornell. Offensively weak and defensively vulnerable, Cornell will be a springboard for the defense as it heads towards tougher league opponents.
Throughout football history, it has been typical to see offensive juggernauts battle it out in their respective league’s biggest stage. Every once in awhile, though, a truly great defensive team will stake a claim for the crown. Teams like the 2015 Denver Broncos or the 2013 Seattle Seahawks come along to remind everybody that it is defense that rules the sport.
For the Ivy League, Harvard just may just fulfill that role. If this defensive ferocity is sustainable, the Crimson’s fifth Ivy crown in six seasons is well within reach.
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