On Sept. 27, I assured Crimson fans that they did not have to worry about the quarterback situation in Cambridge.
After a nearly perfect outing against Brown (11-for-13 passing for 150 yards), I felt as though senior Joe Viviano had won back the trust of coach Tim Murphy. Though Murphy tabbed freshman Jake Smith to start against the Bears due to a lackluster season opener for the offense, it seemed natural that the veteran would command the bulk of the playing time going forward.
That’s not to say that Smith performed poorly—it’s just exceedingly rare that a freshman starts in situations like this. After all, Smith was the first rookie to start under center since Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05. Fitzpatrick has been in the NFL for the past 13 seasons.
Evidently, however, yet another one of my predictions lays in ruin, battered and bruised by the unpredictability of Ivy League football. Since that column, Viviano has thrown only 24 passes across three backup outings. Murphy handed the keys to the offense to Smith, and the rookie has taken advantage of the opportunity.
In his young career, Smith has thrown for 990 yards in seven games, recording a 57.1 completion percentage and five touchdowns in the process. The Ithaca, Mich., native won the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award for his three-touchdown performance in Harvard’s 25-22 victory over Dartmouth.
Just as Smith appeared to solidify his starting spot, he crumbled at Columbia. The freshman tossed four interceptions in the first half, leading Murphy to call in Viviano. The senior reinforced the Crimson’s comeback effort—most impressive were his touchdown run and his 65-yard pass to Henry Taylor that resulted in a score.
At the end of a multitude of twists and turns, this situation has returned to square one. From a quarterback standpoint, this week seems very much like the week after the Rhode Island game, when Murphy opted to insert Smith. This time, however, it is Viviano who may claim the starting spot from Smith.
Heading into a must-win game against Penn, it will be interesting to see how Murphy utilizes his primary passers and how quickly he will pull his starter if he struggles.
Despite the attention that the quarterback competition has garnered, it is defensive efforts that have propelled Harvard back into title contention.
Typically stout, the Crimson has posted underwhelming defensive statistics. The lackluster numbers are primarily due to one major blip on the radar—hosting Princeton, Harvard conceded a whopping 52 points, the third-most in program history.
But when one takes into account the dearth of healthy defensive players in the locker room, the Crimson’s performance has been impressive. The Princeton game remains the only blemish—in Harvard’s other seven contests, it has allowed an average of 17.5 points per game.
Especially notable were successes against Dartmouth and Columbia. In games against potent competition, in games the Crimson could not afford to lose under any circumstances, the defense went to work.
Hosting the Big Green, Harvard came up with a number of clutch plays. Most notably senior safety Tanner Lee ended Dartmouth’s last-ditch drive with an interception. Before the half, the Crimson also recovered a fumble on a punt. That turnover allowed the team to eliminate the first-half shutout and gain some momentum for the remaining two quarters.
Just last week, defensive tackle Richie Ryan exploded for 2.5 sacks en route to winning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week. In total, Harvard sacked Lions signal caller Anders Hill eight times. This intense quarterback pressure halted Columbia—which benefited from an inordinate number of possessions in the first half—and prevented the hosts from running up the score.
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Football Earns Chance at Ivy Title with Win Over ColumbiaAfter the 21-14 victory over Columbia, Harvard (5-3, 3-2) controls its destiny. If the Crimson closes with wins over Penn and Yale, then the program will share the Ivy League championship.