Remember the last time the Harvard football team played at Franklin Field? Here's a hint: "Goal-posts! Goal-posts!" Back in 1998 -- the last time Harvard traveled to Philadelphia -- the visiting Crimson were the final hurdle the Penn football team had to clear in order to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League championship. In front of a rambunctious Penn crowd, the Red and Blue dominated Harvard to the tune of 41-10 that sunny Saturday in mid-November. When the game clock finally hit zero, a wave of ecstatic Penn students flooded Franklin Field and assisted in relocating the east goalposts to the bottom of the Schuylkill River. Awed by the Penn celebration was Harvard freshman Neil Rose, who was excited himself after being awarded the first snaps of his collegiate career at the tail end of the Quakers' rout. After going two-for-six for 26 yards plus two scrambles for five yards, Rose watched wide-eyed from the sidelines as time expired and the Penn fans raced for the uprights. "[Franklin Field's] a pretty big stadium and the atmosphere there is pretty lively," he said. "I remember freshman year all the Penn fans came down and tore down the goalposts afterwards. It's kind of crazy." While this memory from his freshman year gives Rose a somewhat mistaken impression of what Franklin Field is usually like for, say, a game against Brown, the now-junior and Crimson starting quarterback could wind up being the silencer of Penn's Homecoming crowd this Saturday in his second visit to the Quakers' home turf. "I really think he's been the key to that team," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "They had some experience up front, they had some good wide receivers, [but] they did not have an experienced quarterback per se. They needed someone to come in there and take control and make some good decisions and put the ball on people, and he's done a real nice job of that." Rose -- the Ancient Eight's second-most-efficient passer behind Penn's Gavin Hoffman -- hasn't just done a nice job throwing the ball, either. When he breaks from the pocket, Rose becomes the Michael Vick of the Ivy League -- he's quick, he's elusive and he's already gained 183 yards rushing for eight touchdowns to handily lead all Ancient Eight quarterbacks on the ground, particularly impressive because sacks count as negative rushing yardage in college football. "He's one of those kind of guys that we don't really like -- those scrambling-type quarterbacks," Penn linebacker Travis Belden said. "It adds another dimension to their game that just makes it a hell of a lot more difficult for us to defend. We'll have all their guys covered downfield and then, boom!, he's going to scramble and have a chance to bust a big play on us." This penchant for the big run play is something instilled in Rose from his days playing high school football in Mililani, Hawaii, located just north of Honolulu. Since Rose's prep squad was too small to pound the ball through opposing teams, they resorted to a four-receiver formation for almost every play. "I would basically roll out and try to find somebody open," Rose said. "If I couldn't, I had to run. That's what we did 60-70 plays a game." With this virtually one-dimensional offense, it's no wonder that Rose's team back home won only one game in 2 1/2 years. Now that he is starting for Harvard, though, Rose has become the nucleus of a multi-faceted Crimson offense that has kept his team tied with Penn and Cornell in the Ivy title race with just two games remaining. Rose's crew is tied with Penn for the second-best scoring offense in the league with an average of 33.5 points per game, and Harvard has barely squeezed out the Red and Blue for the second-best total offense in the Ancient Eight. Brown leads the league in both categories. The problem for the Quakers this weekend is that Rose -- honored as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 274 yards and two touchdowns and running for another score in a shutout of Columbia last Saturday -- seems to just keep getting better in both scrambling and passing. "It seems like the last few games I'm getting better at my pocket presence," said Rose, who redshirted last season with a foot injury. "I think a big part of the quarterback position is knowing when to run and when not to run. I think I'm getting better at that." The defense of the Red and Blue will have to exploit the last remaining bits of Rose's learning curve Saturday if they want to keep the Crimson flash from streaking through their lines. "We need to contain Rose -- that's one of our big things this week," Penn cornerback and defensive co-captain Joey Alofaituli said. "Keep him inside on the option and don't let him get to the sideline." If he is contained? "I think he can get rattled," Belden said. "I think he's shown in some of his games that when he gets pressure he'll throw some bad passes and will make some bad decisions. I think if we can do that early then it'll make our game a lot easier." But Rose likely won't be witness to another goalpost teardown -- even if Penn does bottle him up and beat Harvard, the Quakers will still not know their Ivy fate until the end of Cornell's game, which kicks off an hour after the matchup at Franklin Field.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.