Friday, August 13, 2010

Harvard University Crimson

There is little doubt that Harvard is the most highly anticipated out of conference game on the schedule every year. While some may say UMASS is a bigger opponent this year, no other team has such a rich history and storied rivalry on the out of conference slate than HC and Harvard. From past and current players, alumni of the college, friends of the football program, all the way up to head coach Tom Gilmore, everyone always wants to beat Harvard. I am not sure the exact reason for this. It may be how close the two schools are as they are separated by just about 40 miles. It could be the feeling by some that Harvard football players perceives themselves as innately better than their opponents as they don a large "H" on the front of their chests. Or, maybe it is the storied rivalry that the Crusaders and Crimson have with one another. But, in my opinion, it starts at the top and trickles down to the rest of the Holy Cross football family. Coach Gilmore gives the impression of wanting to defeat Harvard more than any other opponent on the schedule.

He was 4-0 against the Crimson during his playing days at Pennsylvania, and has brought his success during his playing days against Harvard to his coaching against them in recent years. Every college football coach customarily has one or two teams on their schedule that they always yearn to beat. For coach Gilmore, I believe this team is in the form of the Harvard Crimson.

In a prior post previewing the UMASS game, I stated that I would be in favor of dropping a game or two against Ivy League schools in favor of a game with another CAA school. Let it be known, however, that I hope Harvard remains on the schedule on an annual basis. There are simply too many natural ties and commonalities between the schools to not play them every year. Since 1980 Holy Cross and Harvard has played every year save 2001. During this 29 game stretch, Harvard owns a 15-13-1 edge and has a stranglehold on the series record with a 23-38-2 advantage. Although Harvard owns most of the series' records against Holy Cross, this year's seniors are 2-1 against the Crimson. They look to make it 3-1 this year under the lights in Cambridge. (The last class at Holy Cross to defeat Harvard in three of their four years was the class of 1994.)

Quick Facts and an Overview of the Crimson:

Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Enrollment: 6,704
Nickname: Crimson
President: Drew Gilpin Faust
Conference: Ivy League
Head Coach: Tim Murphy
Record at Harvard: 104-55
Career record: 136-100-1
2009 Overall Record: 7-3
2009 CAA Record: 6-1
Starters Returning/Lost on Offense 7/4; on Defense: 6/5

From 1993-2006 Harvard dominated the series in every sense of the word. Much of the 90s and the early part of the 21st century were tough times for Crusader football, and this showed in the results against one of the Ivy League's elite football programs. During this span, HC was a combined 2-11 against Harvard, but things have changed in recent years. The past three years have featured some of the most exciting games in the Gilmore era. Who could forget the 2007 affair which featured a 40 yard touchdown pass from Dominic Randolph to Thomas Harrison in the waning moments of the game? It is now time for the 2010 Crusaders to prove that they can be successful without Mr. Randolph behind center. Beating an always tough Crimson squad will go a long way in accomplishing that.

One could argue that this is the most significant game on the out of conference portion of the schedule. I say this for two main reasons: 

1) Because it is Harvard
2) While I never like to assume anything in sports, I am going to go against my beliefs with this one. If the Crusaders defeat Howard, which they should if they play to their capabilities, and then go on to beat UMASS the following week, a third consecutive win to begin the season against Harvard would put them at 3-0 and a possible top 15 or 20 ranking in the nation. Moreover, it would begin to prove of the doubters who believed Holy Cross would only go as far as Dominic Randolph wrong. With a loss to UMASS, however, HC would need to defeat the Crimson to avoid going below .500. Regardless of how one slices it, the Harvard game is a pivotal one for the Crusaders. 

Now, here is what we can expect from the Johnnies:
  • Balance
  • Brings back a lot of talent, but loses some too
  • Well-coached
  • First game...working out the kinks?
  • Motivated
On offense, Harvard is not overly dominant or exceptional at the passing or running game, but that is what makes them so good and tough to defend; they are extremely balanced. They seem to always have an above average passing attack, one needs to look no further than their quarterback play ((Ryan Fitzpatrick (now on the Buffalo Bills), Liam O'Hagan, Chris Pizzotti, and now Collier Winters), but a solid running game (Clifton Dawson) as well. If a team tries to solely take away one part of their offense, the other will burn you. This balance was exhibited last season as they passed for an average of 186 yards a game and ran for 179 yards. Expect for the same dosage of the run-pass combination as Harvard returns their starting quarterback in Collier Winters, and their top two running backs in Gino Gordon and Treavor Scales.

The preceding names brings me to my next point: the Crimson bring back a lot of pieces to the puzzle that led them to a 7-3 mark in '09 and a second place finish in the Ivy League. Not only do they bring back their QB and top two backs, but their top wide receivers also return. Chris Lorditch (30 receptions, 545 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Matt Luft (214 yards and 2 touchdowns) will be the primary targets for Winters. Transfer quarterback Andrew Hatch who was originally at Harvard his freshman year, then transferred to LSU, and then back to Harvard will certainly figure into the operation as well. In late April, Murphy was questioned on the topic of Andrew Hatch's status for the upcoming season. He provided the following: Murphy's take on the QB competition:

Well first of all, he hasn’t been 100% officially cleared by the NCAA, and we won’t know that maybe until Sep. 1. So it’s obviously hard to put him in that hole when you don’t even know if he’s going to be eligible. I mean, the signs and the precedent is there that he should be, and he’s had a solid spring, but he still has a ways to go. We run a [much] more sophisticated, pro-style offense than LSU did. They were very simple, just kind of three-step stuff, bubble screens and get it to their fast guys. Here, it’s a little bit more like a pro-style offense, at least from the pass-game standpoint. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, he’s just got to be more consistent, he has to take care of the football more, but it is a legitimate competition. And if he hadn’t been here, I’m not sure that it would have been. I would have said that Collier’s pretty much a slam dunk, but now there’s a competition, so we probably won’t know who our starting quarterback’s going to be until conceivably a week before the Holy Cross game.”

Who and how does Holy Cross prepare for? Is Murphy simply displaying some gamesmanship in stating he won't know who is starter is just a week before their season opener against the Crusaders? There must be a front runner, right? Regardless of who the starter is, he will be an accomplished quarterback. Winters proved he was a capable one last year, and Hatch was a starter at an SEC school.

Also, while he is not a real threat between the 20s, Kyle Juszczyk becomes a real threat when in the red zone. At 6 feet 2 inches and 245 pounds, Juszczyk takes up a lot of space in the middle of the field and is a big target for Winters. A Tight End/Fullback, Juszczyk stretches the field for the Crimson and enables them to run out of many packages while in the red zone. Look for him to constantly be lurking in the flat and sneaking out of the backfield as Harvard loves to run the bootleg and play action passes.

On the defensive side of the ball, Collin Zych (pictured right with head coach Tim Murphy) returns for his senior season and will lead the secondary for Harvard. Zych, who was recently named to a preseason All-America team by Consensus Draft Services and the Ivy League preseason Defensive Player of the Year by Lindy's, totaled a team high 73 tackles last season with two interceptions. Aside from Zych, however, Harvard saw the graduation to three of its top defensive players from last year's squad. Zych's running mate in the secondary Ryan Barne's (38 tackles, 3 interceptions), linebacker Jon Takamura (25 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions), and Carl Ehrlich (36 tackles, 4 sacks) all have graduated. Takamura and Ehrlich anchored a defense in 2008 that featured one of the best front 7's that Holy Cross saw all season.

Well-coached and disciplined teams are benchmarks for Tim Murphy's Harvard football teams. One of the very first things I do when scouting a team and their coach is to look at how many penalties they committed the previous year along with their turnover margin. Not giving away free yards due to mental mistakes and protecting the ball are two integral aspects of football, in my opinion. Last season, Harvard committed 6.7 penalties per game, and had a +.4 turnover margin. By comparison, Holy Cross excelled in the penalty category as they committed just 5.58 penalties per game, but lost the turnover battle as they were -1 on average. The latter number must improve this year. Suffice to say, a Tim Murphy coached team will always be well schooled, disciplined, and will not make excessive mental mistakes.

For as long as I can remember, Harvard's game against Holy Cross has been their first game of the season. Although there is obviously no way to prove this, one would have to believe that there are some first game issues/kinks that are still be worked out as that first game progresses; preseason scrimmages can only accomplish so much. Conversely, Harvard will presumably enter the game entirely fresh with zero injuries. As any former college football player knows, it is virtually impossible to play an entire game without getting banged up in some form. While there may be no serious injuries, nicks and bruises can wear on a player. The Crusaders will have played two games before Harvard. What gives then? Holy Cross' bumps and bruises, or Harvard's first game? If you ask me, the answer is neither. Once the pads are put on and the helmets strapped, it is just another football game. It is not as if the Harvard players have forgotten how to play the game of football, and a few bumps and bruises are aspects of the game that any college football player, especially a Holy Cross one, knows how to play with. "Rub some dirt on it," has been the mentality of a Gilmore coached team.

Lastly, you can bet Harvard will be motivated coming into this game. After being bested by Holy Cross the previous year, and losing two of the last three games to the Crusaders, Harvard will have no problem getting up for this one. If this is not enough to get the Johnnies going, however, head coach Tim Murphy's comments certainly will. After Harvard was picked to finish in first in the Ivy League preseason media poll, Murphy stated:

"We don't deserve it because a year ago, even though we had a solid year and had some great kids on our team, we weren't quite tough enough and physical enough and good enough to beat the very best teams on our schedule."

To me, it sounds as if Murphy is calling out his team for lacking a fairly simple quality needed to be a good team: toughness. Collin Zych and the rest of the leaders on the Crimson team will be yearning to prove their coach wrong, and the first team they have an opportunity to do it against will be Holy Cross. The Crusaders will need to match Harvard's intensity from series-to-series because Harvard certainly will be bringing it on every play.

There is nothing better than playing and beating Harvard. As much as I enjoy playing many of the Patriot League schools, competing against Harvard has a different feel to it. As previously stated, this is a pivotal game for the 2010 Crusaders. It is the sandwich game of a three game road swing for HC and leads into Patriot League play as the men in purple travel down to Washington DC to face Georgetown the following week. Let's keep the train rolling in Cambridge and beat Harvard for the second year in a row and three times in the last four!

KD '11


  1. keep wishing--Harvard will have a division one transfer at the QB position.

  2. I thought Andy Hatch was coming back to coach QBs. Isn't he around 30!?!

  3. Thanks guys. I knew Hatch was coming back, but I thought he was ineligible for this season. I have updated the article with my take on the situation.