One year ago, more than 17,360 fans came to Brown Stadium to witness the football team take down the Harvard Crimson 29-14 at the stadium's first-ever night game. This year, the matchup moves 60 miles north to Cambridge, where the two sides are set to kick off their conference schedules under the lights at Harvard Stadium tonight.
The Bears (1-0) enter the game fresh off a dramatic 21-20 win over Stony Brook University (0-3) last week, while the Crimson (0-1) look to bounce back from a season-opening defeat at the hands of Holy Cross (2-1). But according to quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11.5, the records are meaningless.
"Sure, we're 1-0 and they're 0-1, but in Ivy League standings, we're both even right now," Newhall-Caballero said. "If you miss a beat early on, there's a chance you take a loss that you can't recover from, and all of a sudden the Ivy League championship is out of reach for you."
Despite the 30-22 loss to the Crusaders, whom the Bears will host Oct. 8, Harvard boasts a talented team poised to again contend for the Ivy League crown. The offense is led by senior quarterback Collier Winters, who missed last year's matchup due to a hip injury and may miss tonight's game because of a hamstring injury suffered against Holy Cross last week. His status remains a game-time decision.
In last year's win, Brown's defense was able to pressure and disrupt Harvard quarterback Andrew Hatch — a pure drop-back passer — but if the more mobile Collier plays, he will present a different type of challenge for Bruno's defense.
"(Winters) has no hesitation to take the ball down and run, and he's fast," said linebacker Matt O'Donnell '12, who led the Bears' defense with 9.5 tackles last week. "I think the biggest thing we have to do is, when they run the option play, get the ball out of his hands. Same thing when he's throwing the ball. When we blitz, we need to make sure we hit him and he has to get rid of the ball, and make sure we don't lose him and let him roll out and scramble."
O'Donnell also noted the Bears must improve their rush defense. In the matchup with Stony Brook, the defense surrendered 246 yards on the ground, albeit against a potent pair of experienced backs who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season.
"If they start running the football, then we can't get them into predictable downs," O'Donnell said. "Coach Estes has always told us that (Harvard Coach Tim Murphy) loves to ‘throw the ball to score and run the ball to win,' so if we can keep them out of sync, that'll be the best thing for us."
On the other side of the ball, Harvard's defense is an experienced unit that will try to thwart Brown's high-powered passing attack led by Newhall-Caballero, whose 292 yards and 3 touchdowns against Stony Brook earned him Ivy League Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"They've got a lot of experience, and they're more disciplined than what we've seen up to this point," Newhall-Caballero said.
The Brown passing game looks to continue its success from last week, especially with the rapport between Newhall-Caballero and wide receiver Alex Tounkara-Kone '11.5. Tounkara-Kone picked up right where he left off from last season, catching seven passes for 149 yards, including two long touchdowns of 38 and 46 yards.
"He's fast, he's athletic, and he's really long," Newhall-Caballero said. "He's a big target and makes the job easy for me. He makes matchup problems for almost anybody — there aren't any 6-foot-4 corners out there."
While Harvard has won nine of the last 11 meetings with Brown, the Bears will look to feed off the energy that propelled them to last year's victory. In Harvard's four previous night games since 2007, attendance has hovered around 20,000 at Harvard Stadium. Though a host of Harvard fans will replace last year's raucous Brown home crowd, Newhall-Caballero and O'Donnell both said they are hoping for a strong Brunonian contingent to make the short trip north and channel last year's energy.
But whatever the atmosphere or crowd presence, the team is hungry to start the conference schedule on a high note.
"We're all ready to go," Newhall-Caballero said. "We felt ourselves out last week. We didn't play great, but we did a lot of things well and we know what we have to improve on."
Another factor to watch will be rain in the forecast. With its artificial turf, Harvard's field will not offer the prospect of a mud bowl, but a slick football could throw an unforeseen wrinkle into the game.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.