Winslow Townson for The Globe
Quarterback Joe Viviano is among the 22 seniors Harvard will honor Saturday prior to its home finale against Penn, but the fifth-year player’s season hasn’t gone as planned.
Viviano lost the starting job to Jake Smith after Harvard’s opening loss at Rhode Island, and the freshman started the next seven games. But it’s possible on Saturday that coach Tim Murphy will hand Viviano one more start at Harvard Stadium.
Murphy benched Smith in the second quarter of last Saturday’s game at Columbia after he had thrown four interceptions, and in came Viviano. The veteran threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, and the Crimson rattled off 21 straight points in a winning effort that left Murphy with a quarterback dilemma heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Murphy said Thursday that he has selected a starting quarterback for Saturday, but his choice will remain a secret until game time. Murphy did note that the decision wasn’t based solely on either quarterback’s performance at Columbia.
“I think the bottom line is any time you’re evaluating who’s going to play at any position you take into consideration the season — not just a small sample size like one game or one quarter,” Murphy said. “It’s not an easy decision, but I’ve said from the beginning we have two quarterbacks that we can win with.”
Only three weeks ago, the Crimson were third from the bottom of the Ivy League standings after suffering a 52-17 thrashing at the hands of Princeton. But after back-to-back wins against Dartmouth and Columbia, the Crimson (5-3, 3-2) now control their own destiny and are in the the hunt for at least a share of the conference title.
Murphy’s squad — currently in a four-way tie for second place — needs to beat Penn and then archrival Yale in the season finale Nov. 18 to clinch at least a share of the title.
One reason why the Crimson are still in pursuit of a title is because of their ability to bounce back after losses. The Crimson recorded wins directly following defeats to Rhode Island, Cornell, and Princeton.
“I think the bottom line is two things,” Murphy said. “It’s character in general, and resiliency and the ability to overcome adversity in particular. We’ve struggled in certain areas. We’ve had our shares of challenges, but the kids have always responded to any adversity we’ve had.”
Like the Crimson, the Quakers (4-4, 2-3) enter Saturday on a two-game winning streak.
Penn’s powerful offense averages 31 points per game and it put on a show last week by amassing 317 yards on the ground and 531 total in a 38-35 victory over Princeton.
“The biggest challenge they give you is they’re a very balanced team,” Murphy said. “They can run, they can throw, and they’re certainly one of the most potent offenses in the Ivy League. They’re running the ball about as well as anybody in the league.”
The Quakers also boast a potent receiving threat in Justin Watson, the program’s all-time leader in receptions.
“They also have, I think, hands down the best skill athlete in the Ivy League in Justin Watson,” Murphy said. “He’s been probably the best player at his position since he was a sophomore, and he’s someone you have to account for on every play.”
The Crimson know they can’t afford any mistakes over the next two games.
“It only gets harder from here,” Murphy said.
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