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On Saturday, Harvard football played at Rhode Island. The most significant outcome had nothing to do with the final score.
Midway through the second quarter, Rams wide receiver Marven Beauvais grabbed a catch near the sideline. Freshman cornerback Ben Abercrombie flew in for the hit, fell to the ground, and remained immobile.
Silence descended at Meade Stadium as medical personnel hustled Abercrombie off the field and to a nearby hospital. Later, team officials stated that the freshman had suffered a serious cervical injury and undergone surgery.
My sole purpose in describing the incident is to underscore the seriousness. After Abercrombie left the field, Crimson coach Tim Murphy asked his players whether they wanted to continue the game or drive home. As a team, Harvard football is processing complicated feelings—and probably will for the rest of the season.
I don’t have any further analysis here. It felt remiss to write a column without mentioning Abercrombie’s injury. It felt equally remiss to use the injury as part of a larger point. All I have to offer is the fervent hope that Abercrombie recovers well and swiftly. Please keep him in your thoughts.
Emotionally, the Crimson faces an enormous challenge—gearing up for the rest of the season. Before Saturday, Harvard hadn’t dropped a season opener since 2011. The Crimson had scored at least 10 points in its last 71 games. Meanwhile, the Rams had snatched all of four victories in the last four seasons.
On Saturday, though, history toppled to the ground like a tower of cards. Harvard simply looked lost.
Then again, so did I. Last Friday, I previewed the Rhode Island contest and predicted a blowout. “Mayweather-McGregor looks like an even match compared to this one,” I wrote. Nice.
Partly, I underestimated the athleticism of the Rams. Wide receivers Aaron Parker (sophomore) and Khayri Denny (junior) cut past cornerbacks. The Rhode Island defensive line won the line of scrimmage despite Rams coach Jim Fleming complaining that Harvard linemen are so large that they “block out the sun.”
I also mistook the Crimson, however. I expected a steel-curtain defense. Indeed, Harvard boasts veteran talent, and the team showed flashes of dominance, especially in a scoreless second half.
Still, Rhode Island averaged a comfortable 6.3 yards per play and converted on 50 percent of third downs.
The Crimson offense hardly fared better. Three of Harvard’s first five possessions ended in three-and-outs. In the first quarter, the Crimson enjoyed first-and-goal from the four only to settle for a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Harvard moved to the seven-yard-line before fumbling.
Senior quarterback Joe Viviano had a mixed outing. He completed over 50 percent of his passes (17-for-32) and didn’t throw an interception. But hee didn’t throw a touchdown, either, and his longest heave sailed 23 yards. At the end of last season, the most pressing question surrounded Viviano’s performance and whether Murphy trusted him enough to dial up difficult throws. That uncertainty remains, at least for another week.
Sports fans tend to see calamity in minor events. As soon as a raindrop falls, someone predicts a monsoon. Remember when Aaron Rodgers was “washed up” last year? Or when the Patriots’ dynasty was supposed to end in 2014 (and then 2015…and then 2016…and before this weekend)? Perceived turning points rarely are turning points. Fans just overanalyze.
Sportswriters, unfortunately, share this habit. With nine games on the horizon, it’s important not to make apocalyptic predictions. Cassandra was right, but you probably won’t.
The Harvard defense, for one, should whip into shape. That unit has too much experience to disintegrate. All starting defensive backs have seen major game action. So have all starting linebackers.
On Saturday, the Crimson racked up 80 yards of penalties, many in timely situations. Murphy doesn’t tolerate such frequent miscues. In practice this week, you can bet that coaches are drilling players on mental discipline, over and over again.
Offensively, Harvard retains all-star talent, even if few players popped against the Rams. It takes a well-trained army of men to tackle 5’7” junior wide receiver Adam Scott in the open field. And fellow classmate and wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley can catch anything within a five-yard radius. Further running back Charlie Booker came into his own against Rhode Island. The junior bowled over several defenders en route to 139 yards on 13 carries.
After 60 minutes of competition, the only conclusion we can draw is that the Crimson won’t go undefeated this year. Let’s wait until next Saturday to say more.
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