When the football team returns to the friendly confines of Schoellkopf Field on Saturday afternoon to face Columbia, it will do so on the heels of its first two game winning streak heading into a home game since it prepared to face Harvard on Oct. 9, 1999 riding a stretch of three victories.
After an inauspicious start that saw the Red fall to 0-5 on the season, the team has shown signs of rejuvenation, stringing consecutive wins over Ivy foes Princeton and Dartmouth.
The recent success appears to be largely attributable to a team that has appeared to begun to finally understand a new offensive strategy and defensive scheme that came with the coaching change that took place during the offseason.
“It’s part of a learning process. You have to learn the offense so you can be in the right spots. I think people are starting to understand what needs to be done both offensively and defensively for us to be successful,” senior wideout Tim Hermann said.
New head coach Tim Pendergast came in with a simple mantra to drive the offense: establish a running game to enhance the Red’s prolific passing game. That goal went largely unrealized in the first five games of the season. Against Harvard, the failure of the running game led largely to the Red’s demise, as Cornell was held to negative three ground yards.
The renaissance of the run game has been steered by senior tailback Evan Simmons. He recorded his first 100-yard game against Princeton two weeks ago, tallying 106 yards on 20 carries. He backed that showing with an 83-yard three touchdown game at Dartmouth last weekend.
The passing game has looked potent in the wake of the new found support from the backfield. Senior quarterback Ricky Rahne has recorded nearly 400 passing yards in the last two games.
“Evan has been running really well the last few weeks and that has opened up the pass,” Hermann affirmed.
Hermann continued by dismissing the notion that it was a lack of confidence that caused the Red’s early season troubles.
“The last two weeks we eliminated some of our errors and just had some fun out there. We didn’t have any turnovers and we got some turnovers from [our opponents],” he said, offering a broad explanation for Cornell’s success.
Indeed the turnover bug was endemic for the Red early in the season. In the four games prior to the contest at Princeton, Cornell coughed up the ball 10 times, six resulting from fumbles. In those same four games, the Red’s opponents committed just four turnovers.
In its two most reason games, the Red has reversed its fortunes. It has forced five interceptions and caused a fumble to boot. Much of that is due to the outstanding play of junior safety Jamie Moriarty. He grabbed two interceptions in the Red’s game against Dartmouth and had one the previous week against Princeton. He leads the club with four picks. Moriarty has also provided invaluable leadership to a young secondary, particularly in the absence of junior cornerbacks Roscoe Newsom and Jordan Hase who are sidelined with injuries.
Pendergast is cognizant of the large improvement still needed.
“We have to get our front better and to get our secondary better. We have to continue to tackle better.”
Like Hermann, Pendergast knows the team’s ascendancy will be part of a learning process:
“I liken it to a student going to school. They learn as they go along.”
Archived article by Gary Schueller