No. 15 Harvard goes for 20th straight win against Princeton
(STATS) - Unbeaten for two years, ranked 15th in the latest STATS FCS Poll and rolling through opponents with ease, Harvard is the class of the Ivy League.
That status, however, is about to undergo a pair of major tests, and the first comes Saturday against Princeton - the last team to sully the Crimson's record.
Harvard (5-0, 2-0) has eased through the early part of its schedule, outscoring opponents by an average of 36.2 points and posting a 127-3 scoring edge over the past three games. That recent stretch marks the only time the Crimson have trailed in a game this season, giving up a field goal to Cornell before winning 40-3 on Oct. 10.
Harvard wasn't under any threat last weekend, yielding 197 yards of offense while pounding Lafayette 42-0 to extend the longest active win streak in the FCS to 19.
"The strength of our schedule is really on the back end," coach Tom Murphy said. "We're a team that doesn't beat ourselves. We haven't given up a touchdown in the last three games. We haven't committed a turnover in our last four games. If you do those two things, you're going to win a lot of games.
"We've been sort of remarkably adversity-free at this stage and we know it's coming."
The schedule certainly says so with the next two games posing a direct threat to Harvard's bid for a third straight Ivy title. After hosting Princeton (4-1, 1-1), the Crimson welcome No. 25 Dartmouth to Cambridge next weekend.
"There is no game after Princeton," Murphy said. "One game at a time. We don't even know we're playing next week."
The focus is especially honed since Harvard's last defeat came at home against the Tigers when it allowed a TD pass in the third overtime of a 51-48 defeat Oct. 26, 2013.
Harvard, however, pulverized Princeton 49-7 on the road last year.
"They play such good football that they're able to go on these runs because you start to panic," Tigers coach Bob Surace said. "If we do all the things we can control, maybe there's some pixie dust and some good things happen.
"Play your responsibilities. Play hard. We know how good they are and we respect that, believe me. I'm not sleeping much this week so we can find what plays work so we can constantly matriculate the ball."
Princeton's offense is third in the league with averages of 447.6 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns, including 15 rushing. The unit hit its yards average while gaining a season-high 373 through the air last week, but the defense allowed a touchdown run with 57 seconds to play in a 38-31 loss at Brown.
It's unclear if the Tigers will have running backs Joe Rhattigan and DiAndre Atwater, and wide receiver Seth DeValve back from injury. Rhattigan has a team-high 279 yards and four TDs on 55 carries, while Atwater isn't far behind with 247 yards and a score on 36.
Rhattigan scored the Tigers' only touchdown against Harvard last year on a consolation two-yard run with 28 seconds remaining.
An injury forced DeValve to miss that meeting. The senior had 10 catches for 127 yards and a TD in two games before getting hurt this year. Having him back would surely help Chad Kanoff, who went 24 of 44 for 321 yards with one touchdown and two picks last week.
While the offense gets healthy, the Tigers' defense needs to get tougher after surrendering 429.3 yards per game over the past four while getting torched for an average of 162.3 on the ground.
The unit is now tasked with stopping Paul Stanton Jr., the league's top rusher with 498 yards and 6.1 per carry with seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Scott Hosch is also a threat on the ground, running 28 times for 131 yards and three scores - one in each of the last three games. The senior has tossed 10 scoring passes against one interception and is the first to go 11-0 as Harvard's starter.
"Scottie did a great job for us last year, but this year it's like a completely different person - the confidence level, the athleticism, the mental toughness, the leadership. He gets it," Murphy said. "He's improved dramatically in every phase."