Last season, Brown had arguably the Ivy League’s most potent offense and certainly its most dangerous passing attack. During graduation this past spring, though, the Bears had to wave goodbye to quarterback Eric Webber and wide receiver Stephen Campbell — both of whom were the cream of the Division I-AA crop at their respective positions last year.
Nonetheless, when Brown waltzes onto Schoellkopf Field tomorrow, it will once again proudly display an offense that has no equal in the conference.
How? While questions marks surrounded the Bears’ offense just a few weeks ago, quarterback Kyle Rowley and wide receiver Chas Gessner have since more than filled the shoes of their predecessors. Along with star tailback Mike Malan — who had in excess of 1,200 yards on the ground last season — the pair of Rowley and All-American Gessner represent the catalysts for a Brown attack that is currently averaging over 33 points per game.
Simply put, Rowley and Gessner are the best passing tandem in Division I-AA. The former is averaging 297 yards passing per game along with six TDs, while the latter is averaging 174 yards receiving per game with an equal six TDs.
Those incredulous statistics are only a taste of what the pair has already done to opponents this season. Against Rhode Island three weeks ago, for instance, Rowley torched the Rams for 474 yards through the air. On the other end, Gessner nabbed 269 yards on 19 receptions. Only a URI touchdown with seven seconds remaining prevented the Bears from victory.
Gessner, who is only a junior, is strides in front of every other receiver in division I-AA. He is the only wideout to be averaging more than 10 catches per game, and the next best receiver in the country, Kahmal Roy of Hofstra, is averaging 40 fewer receiving yards per game.
“Chas Gessner is to his team, in some ways, the same thing that Michael Jordan was to the Bulls,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast. “I don’t know if you can ever shut [him] down. You have to try to control him.”
“Chas has been on a tear,” added fifth-year senior defensive back Phil Rigueur.
Limiting Rowley and Gessner’s aerial assault will be a huge key for the Red if it has any desire to erase an 0-4 start.
That will be easier said than done, though.
For starters, Gessner stands a Herculean 6-5, 200, and will no doubt be towering over Cornell’s cornerbacks.
“He’s got height, and unfortunately we don’t have a lot of height at the cornerback position,” Pendergast said.
“He’s tall, so that presents a problem,” Rigueur added. “Most of our DBs are 5-10, 5-11.”
Also problematic is that junior starting cornerback Jordan Hase will be missing from the lineup thanks to a wrist injury.
“That’s big because Jordan’s a great athlete, and he’s a great cover person,” Rigueur said. “So we need somebody to step up.”
Most likely to be called on is junior defensive back Vinny Bates, who ironically was in Gessner’s class in high school in Maryland.
Freshmen Deron Smith will also probably get some playing time at Hase’s spot.
“We’re confident [in the] guys that we rotate through,” Pendergast said of Hase’s replacements.
To account for the strength of Brown’s passing game, the Red has made a few defensive adjustments to its scheme, mainly adding another body to its defensive backfield.
Any number of adjustments won’t do the trick though, if Cornell can’t firm up its coverage in the secondary.
“We haven’t done a good enough job with coverage,” Pendergast acknowledged. “Coverage helps to create pressure and sack opportunities.”
What that translates into, for the cornerbacks, is a more physical style of play.
“We have to do a better job of collisioning receivers and not letting them run clean through our zones,” Pendergast suggested.
Up to now in the season, Cornell has focused much of its defensive energies into stopping opponents’ running games. While Brown’s ground game is also among the best in the Ivies, the Red must now concentrate on choking the Bears’ passing game. As Pendergast said, the Red may not be able to stop Gessner, but containing him and Rowley would go long way towards securing the first victory of the season.
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj