The Light Blue football team (2-5, 1-3 Ivy) is a heavy underdog to derail No. 21 Harvard’s (6-1, 3-1 Ivy) title hopes when it travels to Cambridge this Saturday. The Lions will need to minimize miscues and take full advantage of Harvard’s mistakes if they hope to keep up with the Crimson’s explosive and prolific offense.
While the result was what the Lions were looking for last week against Yale, first-year head coach Pete Mangurian was disappointed with the number of errors his team committed.
“There were obviously a lot of disciplined plays we made that changed the outcome of the game, but there is a lot of room for improvement,” Mangurian said. “Missed assignments and mental errors that can’t be made. They just didn’t bite us. We’re getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
In order to upset Harvard, which was picked to repeat as Ivy League Champion before the season began, the Lions will need to make fewer mistakes than they have all season.
“I told the team on Sunday, ‘Congratulations, that’s a great effort, that’s a great win,’” Mangurian said. “But I said it won’t be good enough, not this week.”
Harvard’s high-powered offense, which averages 38.6 points per game—more than 10 points more than any other team in the Ancient Eight—has the capability to take advantage and turn games into blowouts quickly. In its six victories this season, the Crimson has won by an average of over 27 points.
“The better the team, the less mistakes you can make,” Mangurian said. “They are good enough so that when you do something poorly, they take advantage.”
On offense, the Crimson is led by quarterback Colton Chapple- who has thrown for 284 passing yards per game, completed 65 percent of his passes, and leads the league with 18 touchdown passes—and running back Treavor Scales, who is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game and has notched 10 touchdowns.
Chapple is aided by a tremendous receiving corps that includes four players averaging over 50 yards receiving per game.
“They are all strong, they are all powerful, they are all explosive,” Mangurian said. “They do everything [on offense]. All across the board they are good.”
On defense, the Crimson has been able to hold opponents to an average of just 17 points per game, the lowest in the league, thanks in large part to an outstanding pass rush which has averaged 4.7 sacks per game, the highest in the FCS.
Once again, the Lions will need to overcome a significant size disadvantage.
“If you’re honest about it, I think we’ve had [a size gap] pretty much every week,” Mangurian said. “I think the thing that jumps at you about this team are the skill guys and the secondary. They are big, tall, and long. You see it across the board with this team. They have size and speed [on defense], so it’s tough to find a matchup you like.”
Despite Harvard’s strengths in all phases of the game, the team has not made its way through this season unblemished. While the Crimson defense has excelled on run defense, allowing just 52 yards per game, it has struggled defending the pass, surrendering over 285 passing yards per game. In addition, the Crimson leads the league in penalties (53) and penalty yardage (422).
In the Crimson’s only loss of the season, 12 Harvard penalties and a strong passing attack enabled Princeton to score 29 unanswered points on its way to overcoming a 34-10 fourth quarter deficit.
While Columbia’s defense may be able to contain the Crimson offense, the Lions’ offense and their passing game in particular will have to excel as they did last week if the Light Blue hopes to leave Cambridge with a win.