As strains of “Fair Harvard” wafted across Soldiers’ Field Road, showering Crimson fans with dreams of yet another Ivy Title, a dejected Holy Cross squad emerged from the cavernous bowels of Harvard Stadium without fanfare. As distant as Mount St. James is from Harvard Yard, so too were the directions of Tim Murphy and Tom Gilmore’s clubs after a 34-6 Johnny shellacking in front of 21,704 on Allston-Brighton Day. Perched high atop the gridiron in a camera nest not fit for a sparrow, I could feel the anxiety building up from the east sideline. Time after time, LSU transfer and Mormon missionary Andrew Hatch (filling in for injured all-Ivy QB Collier Winters, out for at least another month) and Co. did exactly what Kyle Havens and UMass did to near perfection: find holes in the defensive backfield. Clearly, experience is not a weakness for veterans Anthony DiMichele and Alex Johnson, but snaps were lacking coming into the season for current starters Cav Koch, Chandler Fenner and Tommy Mannix. Their inexperience combined with what could be lingering effects from a head injury suffered by DiMichele in the final scrimmage of preseason has led to these gaudy statistics: QB Kyle Havens, UMass-25-38-293 yards (2 touchdown passes); QB Andrew Hatch, Harvard-20-25-276 yards (3 touchdown passes). Statistics are statistics, but, to the naked eye, receivers from Cambridge and Amherst were consistently wide open underneath or a step or two in front of their defender(s), characteristics of Peter Vaas-era defenses.
The blame does not lie entirely on the defensive backs or the defense, which was forced to be on the field for 35 of the 60 minutes of the game. Sure, Hatch had all the time in the world to throw and Gino Gordon had a couple of nice runs, but the offense was as stagnant as a Christmas ham. It’s hard to throw him out just yet, but the jury is still out on Ryan Taggart (5-11-54 yards, 1 pick), who may have played himself out of employment on Saturdays with his first half performance. Looking indecisive and very uncomfortable against a stout Harvard rush, Taggart was unable to sustain any momentum in the pocket, giving way to Kevin Watson (13-25-116 yards, 1 pick and 1 touchdown) in the second half. Watson may be the answer for now, appearing to have more confidence after mop up duty vs. Howard and UMass, but he was thrown into the fire long after the Crimson established a 20-0 lead. The name Dominic Randolph should only be referred to in the past tense and not in comparison to anyone on the current roster, but it is hard to forget what his arm (and legs) meant to the offense. The reality is that this offense can no longer go head-to-head in a high scoring shootout with the likes of a UMass team that took nationally-ranked Michigan to the wire at the Big House. With a non-existent running game (for now) and a question mark at quarterback, the defense will have to become as stingy as ever.
The fact that the UMass and Harvard games came into play this early in the season and consecutively no less was tough, but a Tom Gilmore-led team is always up to the task when the bell is rung. Losing to these two very talented, scholarship-laden (yes, the way Harvard administers aid should be considered scholarship) and well-coached teams is not the surprise. UMass was playing under the lights on their home turf in the first game that all students were back on campus, not to mention that they had upset a top-5 team the previous week in William & Mary. Harvard was playing their first game of the season under the lights to probably the second-largest crowd they will see this year behind an SEC-caliber quarterback (who was their backup). With that being said, though, there most certainly should have been improvement from week 2 to week 3. If anything, the team took a step back. Mental mistakes on both sides of the ball cost the offense and defense any kind of momentum. However, the most surprising aspect of these losses was the amount of enthusiasm on the sidelines (definitely not on the field) which was, for lack of a better word, embarrassing. Being scored upon can be demoralizing, but the faith must be kept. Coming from a high school program that went 0-11 my junior year, and having been around for the Vaas and Dan Allen-eras (with all due respect), I understand what it’s like to go through losses, but these are two games against two very quality clubs. The surprising part of these losses is not the loss, but the lack of pride and resilience among those who do not play a significant amount of time. Leadership extends beyond the three captains, who I might say have performed admirably in the face of adversity, with all three battling nagging injuries. A quarterback with solid leadership skills has to step forward in order to taste success in the coming weeks. That may be Taggart or Watson or even Mark Tolzien, who has seen the majority of his snaps come in the two Junior Varsity contests (a win against Merrimack three weeks ago and a loss to Harvard this past Sunday). The underclassmen need to display the same intensity and fire to compete as the starters do; it has yet to come full circle. Having experienced two weeks of seemingly flat practice, let me be the first to say that Coach Gilmore began preparations for Georgetown immediately after Saturday’s loss.
With the sting of the Harvard loss already in the back of our minds at least, we look forward to this week’s flight down to Washington D.C. to Georgetown and their newly-renovated Multi-Purpose Field (capacity up to around 4,000!). While the Hoyas have been rather unsuccessful in the previous decade in the Patriot League, this year is very, very different. With wins over Davidson and Lafayette on the road and a defeat on the final play of the game at the Yale Bowl, Georgetown will not be a sightseeing trip this time around. This contest, an all-too-crucial Patriot League opener for the Cross in light of the current picture (minus Fordham, making it a six team race), will most likely be an indicator as to how the rest of the season will transpire.
To the naysayers who have dismissed this team already, a new “finger-licking good” season begins this Saturday. Stay tuned.
Tidbits from the Harvard Trip:
- Where was the student bus?! Back in 2008, a bevy of buses made the 45 or so minute ramble down the Mass Pike packed to the gills with students excited to get a taste of nighttime football. This year—a year removed from a Patriot League Championship and an exciting 27-20 victory over the Crimson at Fitton—not one bus was offered this week or the previous week for UMass. Gauging student reaction on-campus, a good majority of students were very willing to make the trek to Harvard Stadium, but they did not have access to transportation. In what has become an increasingly blatant, the powers that be in the athletic department have lacked the foresight to promote athletic events on campus, not just football. We wonder why the stands are lacking purple and white on game day. A little outreach goes a very, very long way. Athletes and alumni have noticed.
- Matt Bellomo, a running man’s dream in his first two seasons on the Hill, has yet to dress this season due to a pesky upper leg injury that refuses to go away, taking away another vital weapon from the arsenal of Offensive Coordinator Mike Pedone. Add that to the Billy Edger injury sustained last weekend and you’ve got yourself a situation.
- The Harvard University Band never fails to impress with its big band sound and idiosyncratic routines, but what was truly missing from in game performance was Bertha, purportedly the world’s biggest natural skin bass drum. Conspicuously absent from the Harvard side of the open end zone, it was sorely missed.
- In terms of away team locker rooms, Harvard has gotten it right. Though primarily used as a women’s multi-purpose locker room, this weekend’s facilities were second to none in terms of size and overall functionality, complete with crimson carpeting, three separate player locker room sections, a full coach’s room and a rather spacious restroom. Fitton Field could use similar upgrades.
- Where they come up big in locker rooms they lack in hospitality. Taking the customary jaunt up to the visiting press box to survey the scene, we were amazed to find no stack of complimentary programs or even a free cookie. Seeking merely a finger sandwich after a long haul of equipment and running back and forth (especially in a less than capacity press box), both myself and at least one of the coaches were met with a “no, those are not for you” response. All this after watching the Harvard managers and press corps munching down on turkey sandwiches (with Gray Poupon mustard and havarti and a side of hummus I’m sure). I guess that UMass pregame dinner of barbeque chicken and halftime snack of ribs and ice cream sundae really was the class of the schedule, even it was on the tax payers’ tab. That endowment at Harvard must’ve really taken a hit.
- Some of Harvard’s newest vendors’ prices: $10 for chicken wings (gourmet, I bet), $4 for a bottle of Coke. This really is the Ivy League.
- Security was extra tight, as it should’ve been for a 20,000+ crowd. But having to show your credentials at every checkpoint after you have walked by the same guards more than once and you’re wearing a Holy Cross team-issued polo and khaki pants is a little excessive, in my opinion. Father K gets by with ease, never drawing a second guess.
- Glad to have Holy Cross legend Gordie Lockbaum on the last couple of trips with us, providing color commentary with Mr. Entertainment, the honorable Bob Fouracre. Gordie is truly a class act and still fresh in the minds of his peers. Overheard one of the UMass officials who doubled as a TV commentator for the Temple-Villanova game on ESPN3.com say that he dropped a Lockbaum reference referring to a two-way player in that game, saying that Lockbaum was the last true two-way player in the college game. That Ring of Fame ceremony slated for the October 2 matchup vs. Fordham on Homecoming is looking better and better as the weeks go by.
Thank you, Joe, for you fascinating insights and a look into the game at Harvard from the eyes of someone within the program. Look for my reactions to the game itself later tonight. Also, a preview of the Georgetown game should be up by tomorrow.
Kevin Doyle '11