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Conner Hempel. Wow. That offensive line. Jeez.
That’s the best way to describe the Harvard football team’s season-opening 41-18 win against Holy Cross on Friday. Sometimes, verbs aren’t necessary.
Hempel had just two incompletions in the game—one on a miscommunication with Seitu Smith II and another on his first pass after missing two quarters of play with back spasms.
I think Crimson coach Tim Murphy will forgive those.
Hempel was perfect on his other 11 passes, including two touchdown tosses, as he gained 137 yards through the air. Why not more? Well, there were no more yards to gain. The Crimson scored a touchdown on every drive Hempel led. Really. Every drive.
Six plays, 47 yards, touchdown. 11 plays, 64 yards, touchdown. One play, 18 yards, touchdown. Five plays, 52 yards, touchdown. Eight plays, 88 yards touchdown. Harvard win.
That type of offensive perfection is rare, like a class with a five overall on the Q guide and a one workload, or like an open party at the A.D. Friday’s attack was also inevitable, like the fact that, unavoidably, you will somehow not get into either.
Harvard was bound to dominate because of the quality of the only five starters who never show up in the box score. You should learn their names.
Junior left tackle Adam Redmond, senior left guard Michael Mancinelli, senior center Nick Easton, senior right guard Anthony Fabiano, and junior right tackle Cole Toner.
They gave up just one quarterback hurry Friday and were even better on running plays. With junior Paul Stanton hurt, senior Andrew Casten never went down for zero or negative yards. The line gave him a hole to run through on all 17 of his carries.
Casten converted those into 153 yards and three touchdowns. His blockers helped turn last year’s safety valve into this year’s pipeline.
Hempel did the same thing with his receivers. Junior Andrew Fischer was just an option last year. He was the go-to guy Friday. Sophomore Anthony Firkser, sophomore Ryan Halvorson, and junior Bryce Walker combined for six more catches Friday than they had in 2013.
Harvard was without last year’s leading rusher, Stanton, and two leading pass-catchers, Cam Brate ’14 and injured senior Ricky Zorn. It had Hempel and the offensive line though, so those losses did not matter.
A consistent defense helped, too. Senior Zach Hodges made his presence felt with a drive-ending sack on Holy Cross’ third play and then went about being the “non-statistical force” he says he wants to be.
As Holy Cross sent multiple blockers his way on almost every play, the linebackers had more freedom. Juniors Matt Koran and Eric Medes took advantage by forcing a fumble each and combining for 18 tackles.
Their fumble recoveries on back-to-back drives in the second half helped keep Harvard’s touchdown streak alive.
But here comes the but.
They say first impressions are all-important. They are wrong.
Try to remember how this column started, for instance. For a harder challenge, recall the first game of Harvard’s 2011 football season.
Holy Cross beat the Crimson in that game, 30-22, as Collier Winters ’12 threw two interceptions. Winters threw just two more picks the rest of the year as Harvard ran the table to finish 9-1.
A year earlier, in 2010, the Crimson beat the Crusaders 34-6 to start the year, but then lost three games to tie Murphy’s worst record since 2000.
First impressions briefly seem important because they are the only impression at that time. More, better evidence comes later. The most recent impression is the most accurate, and the last one is the most important.
The corners of the 2014 Harvard football puzzle have been laid, but nobody’s eyes go to the corners of a picture first. A lot of questions remain unanswered.
Fischer and Smith can be explosive on the outside, and other receivers showed the ability to get open between the hashes, but it is still unclear who Hempel can go to when he needs someone to make a contested catch, for example.
On the other side of the ball, Harvard’s secondary was able to get away with giving Holy Cross receivers a lot of cushion in order to avoid a big play over the top. That strategy will not work against some of the quicker-hitting offenses in the Ivy League. The young crop of corners will eventually be tested.
But there is no need to judge those positions now. Strengths and weaknesses there and across the roster will become apparent as Harvard fights through its Ivy schedule starting next week. Or, if you prefer analysis of the verbless variety:
Week one win. Now what?
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