Defense Leads Historically Dominant Harvard Squad

At the end of this column (no peeking), I am going to write something I never expected to see in this paper this season.

I certainly would not have predicted this column before the season started, back when so many fresh feet were tasked with filling such big cleats on defense.

Two games in, injuries to two of the Harvard football team’s most important offensive players made this column even more unlikely.

And during that atrocious 0-0 first half against 0-7 Cornell? I would have laughed you out of Harvard Stadium and across the river for predicting this column would come three short weeks later.

But I suppose that is why I’m in the sportswriting business and not the prophecy business, because here we are. After Saturday’s 23-12 win over Dartmouth (5-2, 3-1 Ivy) I’m ready to say what I never thought I would about this version of the Crimson.


I started thinking it during last week’s 49-7 thumping of Princeton, but that could have been “just one of those days,” as Harvard coach Tim Murphy argued afterwards.

Saturday in Hanover was anything but another perfect scenario, as the Crimson battled gross weather, a Dartmouth side pumped up for its biggest game in nearly two decades, and another injury to starting quarterback Conner Hempel. It still came away with double-digit victory.

Now, Harvard is 7-0 for the first time since Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 led the school on an undefeated 2004 campaign.

To get to 7-0 that year, the Crimson won two one-point games. In 2001, Murphy’s only other unblemished season, Harvard squeaked by Princeton, 28-26, and came back against Brown, 27-20.

There has been no such drama this season.

Harvard has not trailed in a game since September, and its defense has not even allowed anyone to think about a comeback. It’s given up a meager 10.7 points per game, second in the FCS to North Dakota St., the three-time defending national champion that has won its last six games against FBS competition.

Those forsaken cars trying to drive down Mass. Ave at 1:03 p.m. have had more success moving than Harvard’s opponents have against captain Norman Hayes’ crew.

I predicted the Crimson would claim another Ivy title this preseason, but I didn’t think it would do it like this.

“Right now we are playing a really special kind of defense,” Murphy said after Saturday’s game, “The kind of defense we probably haven’t seen since the (9-1 Ivy champion) ‘97 team.”

Murphy does not invoke history often, so your ears should perk up when he does.


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