The area inside the 20-yard lines of a football field is known as the “red zone.” Given the football team’s woes in that area last Saturday at Bucknell, though, that part of the field should have been called anything but that.
It doesn’t take a football genius to tell you that an offense should have more points than red zone attempts in a game. So the Red’s performance inside the 20 last Saturday at Bucknell — four red zone attempts, three points — should raise a red flag for the Red offense.
The problem for Cornell certainly wasn’t an inability to move the ball downfield. The gridders strung together a few long drives beginning deep in their own territory.
“We moved the ball very well, had a bunch of long drives — some of the longest drives I’ve ever been a part of,” recalled senior co-captain Nate Archer.
But aside from a 35-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Trevor MacMeekin, the Red saw all those opportunities vanish into thin air.
“Maybe we got tired with the long drives,” said Archer. “Really, I don’t know what happened. It’s just one of those things.”
The problem of the stalled drives might not be so easy to remedy, considering that each failed red zone attempt seemed to have its own individual problem.
On Cornell’s first big drive of the contest, a Bison sack knocked the Red back from the Bucknell 13 and gave Cornell a fourth-and-16 from the 24-yard line. From that spot, head coach Tim Pendergast didn’t have enough faith in MacMeekin’s leg and opted instead to go for it. The result was an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs.
The Red strung together another long drive on its next possession, earning a first-and-10 at the Bison 14-yard line. But a personal foul sent the offense 15 yards in the wrong direction, and Cornell had to fight to get those yards back. Ultimately, the Red tried a 25-yard field goal — which was blocked — after that drive stalled at the eight.
That drive should have resulted in a Cornell touchdown, according to Pendergast.
“We had a situation where we got a first down at the 14-yard line, and we get a personal foul at the end of the play to knock us back to the 29-yard line. We eventually gain 21 of those 29 yards back, but that’s not enough. Had we been at the 14 and gained those 21 yards, we would’ve been in the end zone,” he said.
Cornell opened up the second half by again driving a sizable distance into the red zone, and this time, the Red was able to break the goose egg on the scoreboard with MacMeekin’s field goal, Cornell’s only three points of the game.
The Red offense missed its biggest opportunity of the game later in the half when a Bison fumble gave the Red a first-and-goal from the six. However, the offense, which had pieced together longer drives all day long, was unable to move six yards in four plays, and Cornell turned the ball over once again.
Moving down the field wasn’t necessarily difficult for Cornell — the Red racked up 254 total yards in the game, getting past the 20-yard line four times. However, offenses earn points for getting into the end zone, not the red zone.
“Even though we met all of our other goals,” said Archer, “getting all the way down the field, that’s the most important one.”
So what were the problems in the red zone? A sack to take the Red out of field goal range, a penalty cutting down a good chance at a touchdown, and a simple sputtering out of the offense.
It’s difficult to say there is one easy solution to solve all of those problems, but on Saturday against Yale, Cornell will try to simplify things by trying something new.
“The word, really, is ‘finish,'” said Pendergast.
Archived article by Alex Fineman