By JOON LEE
FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Senior running back Luke Hagy sat on the Cornell bench accompanied by team doctors. The Cornell football captain has been the ignitor for the Red offense during his last year on the slope, accounting for 33 percent of the team’s total offense coming into Saturday, but Hagy could not do much of anything after he experienced concussion symptoms after a Sacred Heart defender kneed him in the back of his head on the second play of the game.
Meanwhile on the field, the Red offense struggled to generate much of anything. And with Hagy out and freshman running back Chris Walker back in Ithaca due to a concussion sustained during the Red’s loss to Harvard, sophomore running back Josh Sweet received the majority of the carries.
With the opportunity, Sweet racked up 80 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown, but the slice to jugular for the Red came when officials ruled that the sophomore running back fumbled the football a yard out from a touchdown with Cornell (0-5, 0-2 Ivy League) down 17-6. The offense never recovered and the game slipped away; the Pioneers (4-2) ran away with the game in the second half and finished off the Red by a 31-6 final tally.
But what sticks for head coach David Archer’s ’05 is the call on Sweet’s fumble, when he said he thought the running back’s knee was down on contact before the ball came loose.
“I haven’t seen the film yet, but that’s a really poor call,” Archer said. “The next series we stop them on third down and we break the pass off and it bounces back into their hands. That added up to too much to overcome. A slow start and the breaks didn’t go our way and we couldn’t overcome them.”
Junior quarterback Robert Somborn struggled to get his unit going as he took sacks and threw passes over the heads of his receivers, a sight that has become all too common for the Red as of late.
Somborn, who finished the day with a 45 completion percentage on 10-of-22 passing, 196 passing yards (final numbers padded by completed passes during garbage time), no touchdown passes and an interception, frequently threw into tight coverage and clearly missed the presence of week one starting wide receivers junior Collin Shaw and senior Chris Lenz, who were out for the Red.
The junior quarterback has provided inconsistent performance from quarter to quarter, let alone game to game, in recent weeks. Archer expressed concern about the hot and cold nature of his quarterback this season.
“It makes it difficult [to succeed offensively with a hot-and-cold quarterback],” Archer said. “We’ve talked about the how the number one ability to have is dependability and there are times when [Somborn] does some awesome, awesome things with the football in his hands and then other times, he doesn’t play as well.”
Somborn’s performance in recent weeks could open the door to sophomore quarterback Jake Jatis receiving another look as the starter “based on what [each opponent] calls for,” Archer said.
During his weekly media session on Tuesday, Archer said the team needed to prepare for the Pioneer’s blitz-heavy defensive scheme. The Red looked anything but prepared at times against the Sacred Heart defense on Saturday, with sacks abound and heavy pressure leading to throws into tight coverage.
“When you play a team like that that is going to blitz with man coverage, you have to win at the receiver position,” Archer said. “If they’re going to send an extra guy, it’s going to be a matter of time before they get there and you have to win the one-on-ones and when we didn’t, you saw the quarterback look like they didn’t have any place to go with the football and when we did, you saw him get it out, whether he completed it or overthrew it, but you saw him get it out. That’s not only just on the offensive line, but on the whole offense to win on the outside.”
With the team facing significant injuries on the offensive, Archer now looks towards the depth at the wide receiver and running back position to step up and make a contribution for the Red.
“To not have Collin Shaw, Chris Lenz, to not have Luke Hagy, who’s one of the best backs in the Ivy League and to not have probably the most explosive freshman, Chris Walker, it does make it challenging to play offense,” Archer said. “But that leaves the opportunity for other guys to step up and rise to the occasion.”
How the Red adjusts in the wake of several key injuries on the offensive side will determine how the team finishes out the rest of the season, which consists exclusively of five conference games.
“You try to tailor as much as you can to what [the depth players] do well, but you can’t abandon what type of offense you’re trying to establish long term,” Archer said. “You just try to find the balance of that and then, ultimately, they have to make the plays.
What went wrong for the Red
- The Cornell offensive line struggled to contain the Pioneers’ blitz-heavy defensive scheme. Somborn, who has struggled to step up in the pocket and throw away footballs to avoid pressure this season, was sacked four times by the Pioneers. Sacred Heart also sacked Jatis once.
- The Red continues to struggle to keep up with the no-huddle offense. With four and a half minutes left in the second quarter, the Pioneers began to push the tempo of the game and the Red struggled to keep up with the scheme, just as they did against Colgate and Harvard, and Sacred Heart went 55 yards for the touchdown in 91 seconds. Archer said the team needs to continue to “overlearn and overcommunicate” to keep up with the no-huddle.
- Sweet fumbled the ball on the one-yard line with the Red driving into the red zone on their first possession of the second half. While the referees ruled the play a fumble, the lack of replay in the Northeast Conference and the Ivy League prevented a review on the play, which looked as if Sweet could’ve been down before coughing up the football. “We make sure that everybody is on the same page,” Archer said. “It’s find the ball, get the call and overcommunicate. We just have to do a better job of it. The plays are there to be made and coaches, starting with me, and players have to commit to executing their best on Saturdays.
- The Red special teams unit continues to be a big problem for the Red. On the team’s first strong offensive drive of the day, junior place kicker Joe Pierek missed the field goal way left and later hit the left upright on an extra point after Sweet’s touchdown in the second quarter. Pierek replaced freshman kicker Zach Mays earlier in the season after Mays had two kicks blocked against Yale. Given the team’s struggles with place kicking this season, the Red might be better off going for two points after any touchdown. Archer said that the team needs to find a consistent kicker. “We’ve got to fix the situation,” Archer said. “There was certainly a thought in my head [to go for two points on the extra point] when Sweet was down by contact when he fumbled. I thought about it then, but we have to find a guy that will step up and be the kicker for us.
What went right for the Red
- Junior wide receiver Marshall Deutz showed off his shiftiness and his ability to break tackles, collecting four catches for 74 yards. Deutz represented the most consistent offensive option through the air for the Red against the Pioneers.