Heading into last Saturday’s opener against Bucknell, the Cornell football team was as confident as ever. Coming off a season in which it posted a 6-4 overall record, including a 4-3 mark in conference play, the Red seemed poised to take another step forward and challenge for the Ivy League championship. However, after a 20-5 drubbing at the hands of the Bison, the team is now in a slightly different state of mind, as it prepares for tomorrow’s home opener against Yale.
“We’re still confident, but [the coaching staff is] trying to make them looser,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “We were confident last week, but we were a little high strung. Everyone was a little uptight. That needs to improve. We need to play loose. We need to appreciate the experience.”
Last week against Bucknell, Cornell was effective offensively, as junior tailback Luke Siwula recorded his seventh career 100-yard rushing game and the Red generated 436 yards of total offense. However, the squad’s inexperience proved to be its Achilles’ heel, as Cornell committed four costly turnovers, including two interceptions by sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford.
“We have to do a better job protecting the football [against Yale],” Knowles said. “We have to really turn it into a physical game.”
In his first collegiate start, Ford showed flashes of brilliance, completing 18-of-36 pass attempts for 202 yards. However, if the Red is going to turn its season around, the sophomore will have to improve his efficiency and cut down on mistakes.
“We have to be able to stay ahead, or stay in the game early so we are not forced into the passing game,” Knowles said. “That will make his opportunities even better.”
As for the defense, the Red allowed 17 first-quarter points on a pair of rushing touchdowns against the Bison. However, in the final three quarters of play, Cornell allowed only 186 yards of total offense, holding Bucknell to just a field goal.
Yale began its season with similar disappointment, losing a 43-17 affair against San Diego at the Yale Bowl. Toreros quarterback Josh Johnson had a field day against the Bulldog defense, recording 345 yards and four touchdowns through the air, along with 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
[img_assist|nid=18471|title=Keep on truckin|desc=Junior tailback Luke Siwula (right) tries to run through a tackle in the Red’s 20-5 loss to Bucknell last Saturday night in Lewisburg, Pa.|link=popup|align=left|width=97|height=100]
Yale’s offensive attack, led by junior quarterback Matt Polhemus, was held to just 296 yard of total offense compared to 567 for San Diego. Polhemus, making his first collegiate start after taking over for the since graduated Jeff Mroz, went 11-for-28 for 162 yards with an interception.
Last year against Cornell, Mroz tied a school-record with five touchdown passes, including three to wideout Ashley Wright, as Yale cruised to a 37-17 victory. Wright remains one of the Bulldog’s most dangerous weapons, hauling in three balls for 62 yards against San Diego, including a 43-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“We’ll certainly know where [Wright] is on every play,” Knowles said. “They have got a lot of good players, so it’s hard to focus on just one. But he did a great job against us last year and he is someone we are going to have to do a better job at defending.”
Cornell’s defensive strategy heading into tomorrow’s game will be to put the game squarely on Polhemus’ shoulders. If the Red can shut down tailback Mike McLeod, who rushed for 63 yards last week, the inexperience of the Yale quarterback may give the Red some opportunities.
“It’s a catch-22,” Knowles said. “With a new quarterback you always think of immediately going to the pressure. But, he’s got a strong arm and you have to respect that. We have to defend against the deep ball and the medium range passing game, which I think he’s pretty good at. We need to try to keep him off-balance as much as possible.”
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki may be devising a similar strategy to defend against the inexperienced Ford. Of course, the Red quarterback does have arguably the best tailback in the Ivy League in Siwula lining up behind him. A week ago, the junior carried the ball only 13 times, and should get more touches tomorrow.
“I think you can expect him to get more than 13,” Knowles said. “We want to use Luke as much as we can. He’s a tough guy. He can take whatever we throw at him.”
At halftime of tomorrow’s game, Cornell will honor its 1971 Ivy League champion football team, led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Ed Marinaro. Several members of head coach Jack Musick’s squad will return to campus for a full weekend of festivities.
The kickoff for tomorrow’s contest is slated for 1 p.m. The audio broadcast will be available on SIRIUS satellite radio for the first of three times this season.