After driving 76 yards on nine plays in Cornell’s first offensive possession of the game, sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford saw daylight and smelled blood on a third-and-goal from the Yale 6-yard line. Head down and legs churning, the signal-caller sprinted to the end zone in search of Cornell’s first touchdown of the season. In a young season where bounces haven’t gone the Red’s way, Ford was met with brute force as Yale linebacker Michael Woodson knocked the ball loose just before Ford reached the goal line. As the saying goes in football and in every aspect of life besides horseshoes and hand grenades — close just doesn’t cut it.
For the second week in a row, the Red offense experienced success with the ground game and was efficient through the air, but stalled significantly in the red zone. The team, which racked up 331 yards in total offense against Bucknell two weekends ago and 385 yards against Yale on Saturday, is still looking for its first touchdown.
“We were able to move the ball up and down the field all day,” said junior tailback Luke Siwula. “We just came up short. It’s something we just have to get over the hump with, get one in, and they’ll start coming. It’s just the inexperience of the offense — we just have to figure out what it feels like. When we get down there we have to go for the kill and put it in there.”
Against the Bulldogs, the Red came away with only three field goals in four trips inside the red zone, none of which included a failed fourth and one quarterback sneak early in the third quarter on the Yale 24-yard line. In Saturday’s home and Ivy League opener, missed opportunities and an inability to gain momentum caused a ripple effect that affected other aspects of the game that played out until the final whistle.
“They scored three touchdowns and we scored three field goals,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “[Red zone efficiency] is something that’s missing from the puzzle. If you look at it from a stats angle, you’d probably say that we had the edge, but the score is the only thing that counts, and we need to find a way to get the ball into the end zone.”
So far in the early going, most of the Red’s troubles have come from finding other scoring options as teams key on Siwula, a first team All-Ivy selection last season and the Red’s first option. Although the Red has tried to spread the ball around, most effectively passing and handing off to sophomore Shane Kilcoyne (14 rushes for 52 yards on Saturday), teams are compressing the box inside the 20-yard line, taking gaps away from Siwula and forcing Ford to quickly mature inside in the pocket.
“[Cornell has] a new spread attack, and they run a lot of gadget plays you have to be ready for, but the bottom line is that they’re going to give the ball to Siwula,” said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. “They’re going to give him the ball 25-30 times a game on one of two plays, out of either the power [formation] or the dime. You’ve got to be able to stop those plays, and I thought, overall, we did a good job of that.”
The Red will look to punch the ball in for six points when it faces Albany at home this upcoming weekend. If the team can score touchdowns instead of field goals, it could help the defense as well as the offense. If the offense can score points, then the defense can play to its strengths as it plays with a lead, something the Red has yet to experience through two games.