Each year the Ivy League produces a handful of athletes that are sure to make the jump to the next level. These are the athletes fans come out to see in expectation of one day saying, “I saw him play in college.” Harvard’s senior wideout Carl Morris is one such athlete.
On Saturday, Cornell found out why.
The Virginia native is a Payton Award candidate (given to the best player in Division I-AA) after a 2001 campaign that saw him finish second in receiving yards per game (144.0) and third in receptions per game (8.67), nationally. He was also last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, a first team All-Ivy selection, All-New England selection, and rated the best receiver in Division I-AA by numerous pre-season publications in 2002. However, a list of his accomplishments cannot capture the impact of this outstanding performer.
In a game which saw Morris put up relatively modest numbers, his presence was still the difference in Harvard’s eventual toppling of the Red this past weekend. Though 11 catches for 165 yards is nothing to criticize, Saturday’s performance was not just about statistics.
“He was a problem no matter where he lined up,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast. “He could have lined up at quarterback and he would have been a problem for us.”
Morris disrupted the Cornell defense from all angles, creating problems in the Red’s 4-4 based solely on where he was standing on the line of scrimmage. Trying to find the right match-up against the 6-3, 200 pound receiver, was a large enough distraction to spread the Red defense out beyond its ordinary sets on many pivotal downs.
Eventually Cornell settled on lining up a linebacker — in most cases sophomore Brad Kitlowski — to muscle Morris out of rhythm off the line of scrimmage. The Red would then send a defensive back at him once he had broken the early coverage.
“He was a huge concern, we expected them to throw the ball,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast, “but they lined him up in a lot of different spots, not just in the slot.”
On its first drive of the day Harvard failed to pass the ball to its star receiver. Instead, the Crimson tried to establish other parts of its offense, including the ground attack of junior Nick Palazzo.
Still, Morris was not to be ignored in the opening drive and subsequent sets in which he didn’t play a leading rule. Time after time, he proved his talent ranged beyond running crisp patterns by throwing play-breaking blocks for Harvard’s many talented running backs.
However, blocking is best left to offensive linemen and fullbacks. Morris owns eight of Harvard’s nine career receiving records for a reason: he can flat out catch the ball. On Harvard’s second drive, all those in attendance were reminded of that fact.
The five Crimson plays following Cornell’s first scoring drive were a striking wake-up call that changed the flow of a seemingly even-matched contest. Harvard sophomore quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Morris on four consecutive quick routes for gains of 10, 11, nine, and nine yards. On the next play, Cornell displayed a frustration that would characterize its coverage of Morris for the rest of the game. The blatant pass interference penalty that ensued was not the last for the Red and three plays later Harvard posted its second touchdown of the afternoon.
Morris went on to make big plays on almost every Crimson drive including a 54-yard reception to open the scoring in the game-deciding third quarter and a 23-yard scamper off a reverse to set up a Rodney Byrnes score that would all but seal the momentum at the end of the period.
“He’s a great player,” concluded Pendergast, “he’s more skillful than most of the guys that we have out there. That’s a fact. Can’t do anything about that.”
Archived article by Scott Jones