Big Green, Harvard to slug it out for first place
In every student's lifetime at Dartmouth, there should be a football game that they can cling to as a snapshot of the meaning of Ivy League football. That moment has arrived as Harvard comes into Hanover tomorrow to face the Big Green on Homecoming in the biggest game of the year for both teams.
All of the factors are there to make this battle special. On the first day of November, ancient rivals Dartmouth and Harvard will face off for the 101st time, this time to decide who will control their own destiny in the Ivy League.
Both the Big Green and the Crimson enter this game at 5-1 while boasting perfect 3-0 records in league play. However, on paper these seem to be teams going in opposite directions, as Dartmouth struggled two weeks ago in beating Yale before dropping their first game in two years in last week's loss to Lehigh. Harvard on the other hand comes in riding a three-game win streak over Cornell, Holy Cross and a tough Princeton team.
The stakes are mammoth for the two squads. Both tied atop the standings at 3-0, a win would give either team a clear shot to the Ivy title, while the loser could only hope to win their remaining three games while keeping a eye on the scoreboard.
Last weekend saw Pete Sellers '98 go through his most dismal start of his career as the passing offense was inept in the second half against Lehigh, mounting only 46 total yards passing. Lehigh's secondary took away the deep pass from Sellers and forced him to beat them by completing a series of shorter routes to move the ball, which the offense was unable to do. Sellers faces his toughest test of the season in the Harvard defense and must make the Crimson respect his ability to throw underneath so that they are forced to roll up their coverage, giving the Big Green the opportunity to throw deep as they did the first five weeks of the season.
Harvard quarterback Rich Linden is the second straight sophomore signal caller the Big Green has faced. Linden has emerged as a big-time player this year after starting six games as a freshman last year, becoming the first freshman at Harvard to ever start a game at quarterback.His stats this season are almost identical to Sellers as they rank second and third in the league in passing efficiency, but Harvard has been more consistent.
To beat Harvard, Dartmouth must be able to run the football. That responsibility falls square on the shoulders of tailback Dylan Karczewski '99, who has faltered since his career-high 190 yard performance against Cornell four weeks ago but is still averaging a solid 82 yards per contest. Karczewski must bang his way inside the tackles because teams are stopping the option by solely defending him, as Sellers has been reluctant to keep the ball. Dartmouth could also use a strong performance from Eric Davis '99, who is a better inside runner than Karczewski.
On the other side of the field, Harvard tailback Chris Menick has picked up where legendary Crimson tailback Eion Hu left off. Menick picked up his fourth 100-yard game of the season last week against Princeton and has a 254-yard effort against Cornell to add to his portfolio. He leads the Ivy League in rushing averaging 128 yards per game, more than 40 yards better than Karczewski, who sits in second place. If Menick gets near his average of 130 yards, Dartmouth will most likely lose.
The Big Green wide receiving corps is as solid as it gets, but they need to combine with Sellers to be more efficient. Dartmouth's tendency to score on big plays is harmful late in the game when they need to methodically pick up first downs on shorter patterns. Still, Zach Ellis '98, Ken Bollens '98 and Eric Morton '97 have tremendous speed and ability after the catch and are a threat every time they catch the ball with room to run. Ellis has been the go-to-guy with 24 catches but Bollens leads the team with 319 yards.
The Crimson offense boasts one of the top receivers in school history in Colby Skelton, who now owns the Harvard career record for receptions and receiving yards. Skelton is a gutty receiver who makes key catches but hasn't played up to par so far in 1997 as he has only 14 catches. Jared Chupaila has helped to pick up the slack with 24 catches for 374 yards but the two have only two touchdowns this season.
Despite the outcome of last week's contest versus the Mountain Hawks, Head Coach John Lyons was pleased with the performance of the offensive line as the rushing game picked up 100 yards in the first half. However, Dartmouth faces a rough test in possibly the best defensive line in the Ivy League. This unit was beaten physically by Yale in the second half of that game two weeks ago and must be more physical against the Crimson in order to open up holes for Karczewski while allowing Sellers time to throw.
Harvard's offensive front has been exemplary this year, allowing Menick to run wherever he desires while continually pushing other defenses around. However, Princeton's defense did contain the Crimson offense.
The defensive lines for both squads are extremely good. Dartmouth' defensive line has been lead by defensive end Scott Hapgood '97, who has 5.5 sacks to his credit this season. In the tackle spots, the rotation of Brent Crombie '99 and Adam Kane '99 have been particularly efficient in getting to the quarterback but have not forgotten about their run-stopping duties as Dartmouth ranks first in the league against the run, giving up 75 yards a game. Still, the flashbacks of the Big Green defense allowing Lehigh running back Rahim Abdullah's 186 yard day last Saturday should be promising to Menick. The line must stop Menick so that a safety isn't needed to stop the run.
The Crimson's defensive line is lead by All-Ivy candidate Chris Smith, who always seems to be making the big play. Harvard's defense ranks first in the Ivy League giving up only 285 yards a game and it starts with the defensive line. Both Smith and Tim Fleiszer are three-year starters at the end position while all eight lineman from last year's two-deep roster.
If there is any doubt who is the best linebacker in the Ivy League, Zach Walz '98 has erased it with his performance this season. In the last two weeks against Lehigh and Yale, Walz has chalked up 26 tackles, three sacks and two caused fumbles. Expect Walz to be all over the field against Harvard as he tries to stop one of the Ivy League's top offenses. He'll have help from middle linebacker Jon Gibbs '99, who has emerged as a bright spot in this year's defense as he is second on the team in tackles.
The only linebacking corps in the Ivy League that might be able to compete with Walz and Dartmouth belongs to Harvard. Last year's Ivy League rookie of the year Isiah Kacyvenski and fellow inside linebacker Scott Larkee form the best middle linebacking tandem in the league. However, it will be the outside linebackers that will be tested by the speed of Karczewski.
Again a fierce battle between two units assuming that Dartmouth can shake off the memories of last week's drubbing. Dartmouth's secondary has given up the second most yards in the Ivy League, but that stat is misleading considering they have faced the most attempts in the league because of the defense's ability to stop the run. They should get a reprieve against Harvard in not having to face a no-huddle, run-and-shoot team of which they have already seen three times this season. Last week, the secondary had multiple breakdowns in coverage that led to big plays, a mistake they can't make against Linden and Harvard, who lead the league in scoring offense.
Harvard for the most part has been able to shut down the run-and-shoot offenses they've faced, exemplified by Cornell only mounting nine points against the Crimson secondary after throwing for 300 yards on Dartmouth. Cornerback Glenn Jackson and safety Aron Natale anchor a secondary that will be tested by the speed of the Big Green receivers only if Dartmouth is able to run the football. Harvard's secondary will contain Dartmouth on third-and-long as exemplified by Princeton converting only 2-of-16 third down attempts last weekend.
Dartmouth has a huge advantage in special teams and must exploit Harvard's weakness to have a chance at winning this game. Dave Regula '98 has been solid this season, making six of eight tries. But the punting and return units for the Big Green have made a difference, as Dartmouth leads the Ivy League in punting, punt returns and kickoff returns thanks to the efforts of Wayne Schlobohm '00, Tom Reusser '00 and Morton respectively. Expect Dartmouth to get at least one score as a direct result of special teams. Big returns and good field position mean easier points on offense for the Big Green.
Special teams on the other hand have been the weakest part of the Crimson arsenal. Although placekicker Mike Giampaolo has connected on eight of nine field goals, the return game has been weak and so has the punting unit. Kicking cost the Crimson last year's 6-3 loss in Cambridge when they missed two field goals in the final five minutes of the contest in their upset bid. The, special will not win the game but they could certainly lose it for the Crimson.
Last week's 46-26 loss to Lehigh should serve as a wake-up call to this team. This is it for the Big Green as they play for first place in the Ivy League against a rival in front of a homecoming crowd. The Big Green need to prove that they can come back from a loss and no longer have to worry about the burden of the unbeaten streak, only the burden of the Ivy League crown.
The stakes are the same for Harvard in terms of the Ivy League title. But you know the Crimson wanted to be the ones to knock off Dartmouth first and are coming off a tough emotional slugfest with Princeton. A Homcoming battle is a tough task for Tim Murphy's troops.
This is as close as a matchup as you will find anywhere in the Ivy League. Both teams rely on their defenses to make big plays and hope to run the ball down their opponents throat. Unfortunately for Dartmouth, Harvard has proved to be much better at that this year than the Big Green.
With these two teams being nearly equal in almost every category, Dartmouth must do three things to win this game. First, they must be able to run the ball effectively to elimintae the third-down-and long plays and to open up the offense. Second, the Big Green must score early and prove to themselves they can move on the Crimson. Finally, they must get a big play off of special teams. That seems to be too tough of a task this week as Harvard is a more complete football team that hasn't shown the inconsistencies Dartmouth has. A struggle to the end but unless Dartmouth regains their big-play mode, they won't win a physical contest with Harvard.
Prediction: Harvard 20, Big Green 17