Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thoughts from the Booth: Questions Abound After Deflating Loss at Brown

by Scott Reed
The Harvard Crimson took a step back Saturday night in Providence, Rhode Island, losing 29-14 in disappointing fashion to a Brown team that, while talented, was predicted to finish behind Harvard in the preseason. The game was dominated by Brown from the outset yet at the same time was maddeningly within reach, as Crimson mistakes in the second half halted any semblance of a comeback. After the jump, we look at some of the causes in Harvard's poor performance.

It all started with the offense, which was anemic. Senior Andrew Hatch, who was so superb in his season-opening performance against Holy Cross, looked befuddled by a Bears defense that was replacing 5 All-Ivy starters. Hatch was 11-23 for only 128 yards, taking four sacks and throwing two costly interceptions. He missed several open receivers and generally looked uncomfortable in the pocket, scrambling for little or no yardage several times.
The offense’s struggles cannot be placed entirely on Hatch, however, as Harvard’s ground game struggled for the second consecutive game. Neither Gino Gordon nor sophomore Treavor Scales was able to get anything going on the ground, as the Crimson were held to -16 yards rushing (which includes 4 sacks) on 23 carries. The Ivy League’s top rushing attack a year ago has been mostly ineffective after losing 4 starters to graduation.
Defensively, Harvard was unable to stop Brown in the first half, although they forced several three-and-outs after halftime. The Bears dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 39:05, and converted on several critical 3rd downs in the first half. Even the special teams were error-prone, as one snap sailed over punter Jacob Dombrowski’s head, and freshman kicker David Mothander missed his first field goal of his career.
The lone bright spot for the Crimson was the play of senior wide receiver and return man Marco Iannuzzi. Iannuzzi scored Harvard’s only two touchdowns, bringing his total after two games to three scores. He caught a touchdown pass from Hatch just before halftime, and had an electric 95-yard kickoff return to start the 3rd quarter, but Harvard could not capitalize.
Overall, the Crimson put on a rather uninspiring performance, one that raises questions about how the 2010 season will play out. Sure, the intangibles were against the Crimson this week: Brown was sure to be fired up for their first night game, and they were. But to even the most casual of observers it was evident that Harvard came out flat. It is remarkable what a difference one week can make on the perception of a team. A week ago, the belief here was that the ceiling for this team was 9-1 or 10-0. But Saturday’s performance throws in doubt the ability of the offense to execute against quality defensive competition. Harvard’s only offensive touchdown was aided by a Brown special teams miscue, and the Crimson had only 112 total yards on the night. Going back to last year, Harvard has had lackluster performances in its last 3 Ivy games: it scored 7 points against Penn, 14 against Yale, and 7 Saturday at Brown.
Hatch’s erratic play against the Bears leads one to question whether he is in fact the savior backup quarterback some anointed him to be after his performance in the season opener. It is almost unthinkable that Head Coach Tim Murphy would replace Hatch before Collier Winters returns from injury, so much of the Crimson’s success will depend on Hatch. Harvard has to be able to run the ball better as well, to take pressure off of the quarterback.
Coming up, the game this Saturday presents an interesting challenge for the Crimson. The Lafayette Leopards, who throttled Harvard a year ago, lost close games to Ivy foes Penn and Princeton. The Crimson will be tasked with putting the results of this past Saturday behind them and playing a quality opponent on the road. How they respond this weekend will go a long way towards telling us how the 2010 season will unfold.

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