Harvard celebrates its 10-0 win over Yale last season at The Stadium.
By Craig Haley
November 18, 2009
Harvard (6-3, 5-1) at Yale (4-5, 2-4)
Versus, Saturday at 12 p.m. ET
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Many people would have thought Tom Williams said all the right words when he was introduced as Yale's head coach last year. He talking about wanting his program to win the Ivy League championship and beat rival Harvard.
The intensity of Harvard-Yale, however, is unlike anything else in the Ivy League, and in much of college football. Alumni of both programs will tell you that Williams should have said he wants the Bulldogs to beat Harvard and win the Ivy League championship - in that order and only that order.
The series affectionately known as The Game is the oldest in college football history (dating to 1875) and the third-most played behind Lehigh-Lafayette and Princeton-Yale. The Bulldogs bring a 65-52-8 series lead into the 126th meeting on Saturday at venerable Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn.
"In any rivalry game, you can appreciate that there's an intensity involved from both sides of the field," Williams said this week. I guess not understanding how intense it can be I think was something that was new to me. It's not just a football game, I think it's a way of life for the people associated with the schools because our schools are competing in more areas than just on the football field and more areas than just in the sports arena. We're competing for students, we're competing for funds from government, we're competing for prestige. It's a much bigger rivalry than just on the football field. And I think I have a much better understanding of it now than I did when I first got the job."
"I really think our rivalry embodies all that is really good about college football," Harvard coach Tim Murphy. "From a tangible standpoint, we have a shot at our ninth straight year with a minimum of seven wins, a chance at our eighth win out of our last nine against Yale, and, obviously, an outside shot at the Ivy League title. (That is) counting of tangible things to play for, but the biggest thing is just pride. Pride in playing your big rival. And that's all our kids need in this one."
Harvard has won seven of the last eight meetings, including 10-0 in Cambridge, Mass., a year ago. A game behind first-place Penn (7-2, 6-0) in the Ivy League standings, the Crimson would need to beat Yale and have the Quakers lose to last-place Cornell (2-7, 1-5) to create a share of the league title.
Of course, the league title implications are secondary for the Harvard alumni who simply want to beat Yale.
CRIMSON TO WATCH
Watch senior offensive tackle James Williams (6'5", 295 pounds) long enough and you'll see the All-American dominating the opposition. He provides excellent protection for quarterback Collier Winters and clears holes for Gino Gordon and Treavor Scales, the top running backs for the league's No. 1 rushing attack (179.4 ypg).
Experienced wide receivers Matt Luft (6'6") and Chris Lorditch (6'4") and tight end Nicolas Schwarzkopf (6'4") provide Winters (137 of 246 for 1,650 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs) with big targets. Their size advantage over the Yale secondary will play a big part in the Crimson's game plan.
Yale has a hard enough time running the ball - a league-low 85.4 yards per game. The Crimson secondary which includes standouts Collin Zych (66 tackles, 11 pass breakups) at free safety, and Matt Hanson and Derrick Barker at cornerbacks, could really keep the Bulldogs from moving the ball.
BULLDOGS TO WATCH
Middle linebacker Paul Rice, whose father Lou played strong safety at Harvard in the mid 1970s, has a grasp on The Game, and talks about how it can define the way his senior class is remembered. On Saturday, Rice wants to get a grasp on Harvard ball carriers. The fierce competitor is fourth in the league with 43 solo tackles, and has a team-high 63 total tackles. He needs to get his defense, which had been outstanding until the last two weeks against Brown and Princeton, back on track.
Starting quarterback Pat Witt, or is it Brook Hart? Both signal-callers have played when the other has struggled. Witt (123 of 218 for 1,279 yards, 8 TDs, 10 INTs) is coming off a three-interception game against Princeton, although Williams didn't pull him in favor of Hart (71 of 118 for 750 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs). Williams lauds Witt, a Nebraska transfer, for his competitiveness, intelligent play and strong arm. Last year, Hart, a left-hander, had a poor game against Harvard, going 4 of 11 for 36 yards. No matter the QB, H-back John Sheffield (55 receptions) is the top receiving threat.
Adam Money wants to live up to his name by being a playmaker. The junior cornerback leads the Bulldogs with three interceptions, has recovered a fumble and forced three others. Freshman Chris Smith's knee injury also has made Money the primary returner on kicks and punts.
Offenses don't come much more balanced than Harvard's, which has gained 1,615 rushing yards and 1,652 passing yards. If the Crimson establish the run early, Winters (13 touchdown receptions to eight difference receivers) will be even more dangerous on roll-outs and down-field passes. Gordon and Scales rotate at running back, and considering Cheng Ho has six 100-yard games in his career, he is a third option that few teams have in reserve.
The Crimson's special teams are not aptly named this season. Patrick Long hasn't kicked a field goal beyond 30 yards, punter Thomas Hull doesn't have a big foot and the returners struggled for long gains much of the season. But kick returner Marco Iannuzzi came on strong against Penn last week. If the special teams save their best for last, then Yale is really in trouble.
Harvard does well against struggling teams. Yale hasn't defeated a team with a winning record (the four it has beaten is a combined 8-30), so the Crimson have a chance to deflate the Bulldogs by grabbing a quick lead. They asserted control of the Bulldogs early in their last trip to Yale Bowl, a 37-6 thrashing in 2007, when both teams entered The Game with 6-0 league marks.
The graduation loss of tailback Mike McLeod and his 4,512 career rushing yards has been evident for the Ivy League's worst rushing attack. The Bulldogs need an inspired effort from their offensive line and running backs. Against Princeton, they turned to physical Alex Thomas, who rushed for 55 yards on 15 carries, and Rodney Reynolds, who gained 36 yards on six carries. This season's leading rushers are Mordecai Cargill (236 yards) and Jordan Farrell (227).
The hard-hitting defense has been opportunistic all season, collecting 21 turnovers, but is wearing down. Opponents averaged under 12 points through the first six games, but are scoring 27 points per game over the last three games. The secondary will have its hands full against Harvard's big-play receivers, so the defensive front, led by Tom McCarthy and Patrick Moran, has to have a big game.
Surprise the Crimson. The Bulldogs, incredibly, have recovered all four of Tom Mante's onside kicks. That may not catch the Crimson off-guard, but a reverse, a flee-flicker or something else could work. It's Harvard-Yale, so anything goes.
There's a big difference in coaching experience with The Game. Harvard's Murphy is 10-5 against Yale, while Yale's Williams is coaching against Harvard for the first time. Despite Yale being at home, the talent level also favors Harvard.
Harvard 28, Yale 17