Although Penn (18/19) was ranked second in the Ivy Preseason polls, their play through the first 8 games of the 2010 season has been worthy of their current number one ranking. 7-1 overall, and undefeated in the Ivies through five games, the Fighting Quakers come into tomorrow’s contest a 9-point favorite in the Sagarin Ratings. That being said, Harvard found itself repeatedly battling with injuries throughout the early part of the season--including during the game against the Brown Bears in which the Crimson suffered their only Ivy League loss of the year to date—and are looking much sharper now than at any other point in the season. So here are three key things that the Harvard Crimson can do to dampen the Quakers hopes of a repeat solo Ivy League Championship.
1. CONTINUE TO STOP THE RUN. Irrespective of the game or the number of injuries that were piling up at other positions, the Crimson have consistently dominated when the other team has tried to run the ball. Opponents are averaging only 85.6 total Yards per Game on the ground against the stingy Crimson defense. Encouragingly, this trend continued even against Dartmouth’s Nick Schweiger, who is—along with Gino Gordon—one of the Ivy League’s leading rushers, and yet who was only able to rush for 69 yards against the Crimson two weeks ago. It is going to be essential that Harvard maintains this form tomorrow against Penn, who are averaging 241 yards per game on the ground, including a 396-yard effort last week in a 52-10 rout of the Princeton Tigers.
2. FORCE TURNOVERS. One of the few statistical categories in which the Crimson clearly outrank the Quakers is that of turnovers. The Penn Quakers have fumbled the ball away 7 times this season, compared to only 2 for Harvard. Harvard also leads the Ivies in interceptions with 13 (1.6/game), compared to only 6 for the Quakers. Harvard saw a couple of key Lions turnovers last week help them to establish a commanding lead against Columbia, and to create (and convert) similar opportunities against Penn will go a long way towards putting the Crimson over the top.
3. TAKE THE EARLY LEAD. Franklin Field has, in recent history, been a very unfriendly confine for Harvard; the Crimson have only managed a single win in Philadelphia since 1980 (that one win came in a 31-10 effort in 2004). Scoring early will help to de-energize what is sure to be a large and boisterous home crowd eager to see their Quakers’ final home contest and a de facto Ivy League championship game. Putting points up early also means that, come later in the game, the Crimson will be less likely to have to cobble together desparation drives against a Penn defense that leads the Ivy League in just about every statistical category, including PPG (15.5) and opponent’s total offense (265.2 YPG).
Other things to Watch:
Penn Run Defense—The Penn Quakers are even better than Harvard Crimson against the run, allowing only an average of 65.2 yards per game, compared to Harvard’s (still impressive) 85.6 Opponents YPG.
Points per Game—only .8 PPG separates these two teams: 28.9 for Harvard, and 28.1 for Penn. Opponents’ PPG’s are equally close: Harvard averages 16.5 PPG allowed, while Penn lets up 15.5.