The temperatures were in the upper 90s on Saturday — traditional weather for baseball, barbequing and sunburns. But that did not stop the football team from getting into action, as it traveled across town to the South Hill to scrimmage Ithaca College. After almost two weeks of practice, Cornell used the scrimmage to prepare for its season opener on Sept. 15 against Bucknell. With Cornell’s first game three weeks away, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 wanted his squad to take a break from playing against themselves and see a different team for a change.
“You just get tired of hitting each other and also any time you scrimmage each other you get double exposure,” Knowles said. “You are getting hurt because you got two guys going at the same time, you know. Ideally, you would like to have three of these … the problem that we have is that by the time we play Bucknell, we are their third game and they are our first. … That’s part of the Ivy League.”
Given that it was Cornell’s first time facing an opponent, there were both positives and negatives to take away from the scrimmage. On offense, Knowles singled out sophomores Stephen Liuzza, Nick Zerante and Bryan Walters for their play in the receiving corps. He also praised the defensive secondary, including junior safety Tim Bax and freshman cornerback Emani Fenton. Another bright spot for Cornell was the play of the Red’s special teams unit.
“We had a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and another one was tipped,” Knowles said. “We actually had a guy come clean twice who just missed the ball, so special-teams-wise I think we were way ahead of the game.”
Despite Cornell’s solid play in some facets of the scrimmage, there was still room for improvement, especially in limiting turnovers.
“We turned the ball over three times in the red zone, with a fumble on the four, pickoff in the end zone and pickoff in the red zone,” Knowles said. “We have to shore that up and take care of the ball better.”
Cornell also struggled in the two-minute drill.
“I wasn’t happy with our offense in the two-minute drill,” Knowles said. “If you are not hitting on all cylinders, that is where it is going to show up. We have had 10 practices, so trying to run two-minute drills takes a lot of orchestration and a lot of practice. It’s a start; we know we have to get a lot better in that area.” [video: node=23834 : autostart=false]
The scrimmage was broken up into five different segments designed to test many different facets of a game. After running some basic drills, the teams practiced different areas of special teams, including punts and field goals. Cornell and Ithaca College then moved on to red zone drills in which the teams would alternate possessions at the 20-yard line. The teams finished the first half of the scrimmage by practicing two-minute drills. In the red-zone practice and the two-minute drill, both teams utilized their first as well as their second teams.
“You hope you work out some of your kinks with something like this,” Knowles said.
The second half consisted of a live scrimmage between the two teams, with both Cornell’s and Ithaca College’s first and second units getting in on the action. The teams alternated possessions starting at each squad’s 35-yard line and played two 15-minute quarters. At the very end of the scrimmage, players who otherwise would not have played were able to get onto the field.
Ithaca College, while a Division III team, finished last season 7-3 with a 4-2 record in the Empire 8 Conference. Cornell was 5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Ivy League.