Football Rides Defensive Effort to Eighth Win

Sarah P Reid

The Harvard defense propelled the Crimson to its 45-0 routing of Columbia.

I walked into Harvard Stadium Saturday expecting not to learn anything about the Crimson football team during its matchup with 0-7 (now 0-8) Columbia. I walked out of the Stadium admitting I had been wrong.

Of course the game was the blowout everyone expected, a 45-0 win only because Harvard (8-0, 5-0 Ivy) did not want to score anymore in the fourth quarter. The Lions still have not scored on the Crimson since 2011 and have won just four games in those four years.

It was the way that the Crimson scored that surprised me, and would have been even more surprising to me at the beginning of the year. It also spoke to this team’s true identity.

Harvard scored three touchdowns on interception returns. Another came on a one-yard drive following a fumble recovery. In total, 28 points on one yard of offense.

The Crimson offense finished with a more-than-respectable 440 yards of offense including a couple long scoring drives, but the team’s defense owned the day. With interception returns of 48 and 49 yards, linebacker Connor Sheehan contributed more yardage than any receiver. And the pass defense netted as many sacks (five) as first downs Harvard’s passing offense earned. I can’t remember seeing a similar box score in either regard.


The post-game press conference brought more firsts. The sports information director introduced the speakers from right to left: Sheehan, Harvard coach Tim Murphy, senior defensive tackle Obum Obukwelu, and junior defensive back Asante Gibson. Defender, coach, defender, defender. I had never been to a press conference lacking offensive representation before, but this one had good reason.

Yes, freshman running back Semar Smith had a nice day on the ground, but Saturday will be remembered as the day Harvard’s defense laid sole claim to this team’s identity. This is the defense’s team now.

Who da thunk it?

Coming into the year, all the big names were on offense--returning quarterback Conner Hempel, Pinball Wizard running back Paul Stanton, NFL prospects Nick Easton and Cole Toner. The defense had Ivy League Player of the Year Zack Hodges and captain Norman Hayes, sure, but those two combined for just one solo tackle after Hodges had an injury scare on the first play of the game.

I bet I could count on one hand the number of times Obukwelu, Sheehan, or Gibson has gotten their name in the paper this year. This team could be the second-coming of the 1972 Dolphins’ “No-Name Defense” except that it’s been even more dominant.

Thanks to Saturday’s shutout, Harvard now leads all 121 FCS teams in scoring defense, giving up 9.4 points per game. That includes multiple touchdowns given up by the second unit at the end of blowouts.

North Dakota State, 33-1 in its last 34 games, is second in the country with 11.5 points per game. No other team has given up less than 14 points per game. And as I mentioned last week, Harvard’s 9.4 average is likely to go down against Penn and it’s 98th ranked offense.

Some of the credit goes to a couple other people who never get mentioned in this spot. Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Scott Larkee ’99 took increased responsibility this offseason as Murphy took a step back after heart surgery. Larkee, who was also an assistant on the undefeated 2001 team, made sure this young defense did not suffer as a result. Ryan Crawford deserves recognition too for leading an inexperienced defensive backfield to a top-10 passing efficiency rating against thus far. His special teams unit also contributed a blocked punt Saturday.

Those coaches and their players deserve respect for the work they have put in without public recognition thus far. They have earned mention by posting some historic numbers.
And they better get your attention because they are two games away from leading the Crimson to its third undefeated, untied season in over 100 years.

--Staff writer Jacob D.H. Feldman can be reached at



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