In any given week, the defense focuses on one or two offensive stars. Harvard’s star, without a doubt, is quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. How to stop him, however, is another matter entirely.
“I don’t know that you contain him,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.
“He’s really talented. He runs well, very elusive — he’s like a very good tailback who’s also a very good quarterback. Extremely intelligent, he runs a lot of the offense right on the line of scrimmage. He’s sitting out there, and he just knows what you’re doing.”
But Fitzpatrick’s skills aren’t just limited to his running ability and field vision, he’s an all-purpose player. The Harvard junior currently leads the nation in pass efficiency rating, and total offense at 406 yards per game. Last weekend against Northeastern, when he couldn’t find a receiver, he took care of business himself, finishing the day with two rushing touchdowns as well as two in the air.
“This guy can throw the ball and he has receivers that can catch it whenever they want,” said Pendergast. “They don’t have to wait until they are behind to throw the ball. This is a team that likes to throw the ball. They like to spread you out.”
Senior free safety Neil Morrissey echoed Pendergast’s comments.
“Fitzpatrick, he’s up there to make plays. He’s going to throw first and run later, versus the other guys who run first,” he said. “So that’s the question we face, whether or not we’re ready for that, and I think we’re working on it.”
While the top-ranked Harvard offense rolls into Scheollkopf this weekend, it will have to contend with the Ivy League’s leading pass defense. Currently ranked 10th in the nation, Cornell’s secondary has allowed just 141 passing yards per game. The players don’t see why tomorrow will be any different.
“We are extremely excited about the fact that Harvard is coming in here with the top rated passer in the nation,” said Morrissey. “I think that poses a great challenge for our entire defense.
“I think that we’re going to throw a lot of things at Harvard that maybe they haven’t seen.”
But the same thing can be said for Harvard. After losing it’s top receiver, two-time Ivy League player of the year Carl Morris, to graduation, Harvard has found a new top wideout — Brian Edwards. Last week he hauled in seven receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns. According to Pendergast, Edwards is just one of several weapons the defense will have to limit.
“You have to have talent around talent in order to be good,” Pendergast said. “To be the type of offense that clicks for 530 yards a game, and [Fitzpatrick] leads the nation in offense — he’s a great player.”
Still, the largest factor in limiting Harvard’s offense may not be stopping the run or the pass, it may just be Cornell stopping its own mistakes.
“It’s not that our guys aren’t playing hard, it’s not that they aren’t trying because they are,” said Pendergast of the defense. “Fundamentals — you can go back and watch tape and if a guy goes in the wrong gap, it’s a fundamental breakdown. If the guy steps the wrong way, that’s a fundamental breakdown, and it’s something we need to clean up.”
Cornell’s offense is a different story. Down 24-7 at the half last weekend, the Red mounted a 17-point comeback to knot the game in the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Mick Razzano spearheaded the effort, throwing for 171 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Josh Johnston led the way on the ground with 109 yards and one touchdown.
The efforts impressed Pendergast.
“The way I look at it, we scored offensively 17 points in 22 minutes,” he said. “That’s almost a point a minute, not quite, but it’s almost a point a minute. That to me is pretty good production by the offense. In addition, we only took 55 snaps, so that’s almost a point every three snaps.”
Last weekend’s second half also seems to have boosted the confidence of the team.
“We played a good game against Colgate, and we’re looking for big things against Harvard,” said senior receiver John Kellner. “It was a good stepping stone for us to come out and a and play a good second half against Colgate to get us going for this weekend.”
Still, the key to besting Harvard doesn’t lie with one side of the ball. It’ll take a team effort to pull off a win tomorrow.
“A lot of it is just consistency,” said Kellner. “It’s for us to be able to put together four quarters with all three cylinders clicking with our offense, and defense and special teams. We’ve shown signs of greatness in all of them, but we haven’t yet put it all together.”
Archived article by Matt Janiga