Last week, the Cornell football team gave its Homecoming crowd of over 15,000 people something to cheer about, in the midst of a festive weekend. The Red defeated Ivy-rival Yale, 27-13, in its most impressive victory in several years, giving Cornell its first 2-0 start since 2009.
Sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks once again led the way, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns. He continues to turn heads with his standout play in just his first season starting.
To put it simply, Cornell dominated Yale, as starting quarterback Rafe Chapple managed just three completions in 10 attempts, to go along with two picks before being pulled. Cornell outscored Yale 24-3 in the first half, and while the second half score was tighter, the result was hardly ever in doubt.
This weekend, though, the Red travels to Hamilton for its toughest test to date — a battle with Patriot League champion and No. 25 in the FCS Coaches Poll Colgate on their Homecoming. The preseason pick to win the Patriot League once again, Colgate has gotten off to a somewhat slow start, winning just one of its first three games — although both have been to very tough opponents in Syracuse and Richmond. The Raiders went on to thrash Yale 55-13 for their only win thus far.
In last year’s meeting, Colgate bested the Red 28-21 in what was just short of a monumental comeback for Cornell. The Raiders led 28-7 at the half but let Cornell back in the game. Good enough for the Red’s third straight heartbreaking finish, the game ended with four Cornell incompletions inside Colgate’s 10-yard line, which would have tied the game at 28. The loss was Cornell’s seventh straight to the Raiders.
This year, Colgate returns 17 of 22 starters — nine on offense — but Cornell hopes its early-season momentum can change the script and propel it to a big road win in its 98th all-time meeting against the Raiders. Before the team can do that, it must follow these three keys to victory.
Contain the Colgate Running Game
Despite perceptions, Colgate’s offense is a run-first attack. So far this year, they have run on 60 percent of plays from scrimmage, and last year was no different. The reason for this is twofold. First, Colgate’s offense features junior running back, James Holland, who thus far has averaged nearly five yards per carry. Additionally, Colgate’s standout senior quarterback Jake Melville is just a much a threat to run as he is to pass.
Last season, Melville ran for over 1000 yards in just 14 games and is averaging over four yards per attempt this year. The New Jersey native is an efficient passer as well, but he rarely throws the ball more than 20 to 25 times per game. Holland — who has become the featured back this season — ran for 110 yards against Yale and performed admirably against a stout Richmond run-defense.
Look for Melville and Holland to combine for almost 30 carries. Cornell’s defense has been great so far, but they have given up over 100 yards rushing in each of the two games. Senior captain Jackson Weber and the rest of the Red’s linebacking core have a challenge ahead of them when defending the Colgate ground game.
Keep up the Pace Offensively
Cornell’s offense has been firing on all cylinders so far. Banks is exceeding any and all expectations, and the team has struck a balance between the running game and the passing attack in each of the first two contests. However, the team has had most success when sticking to a fast-paced, aggressive offensive style of play.
Last week, against Yale, Banks led the Red in a hurry-up offense for most of the first half and the Bulldogs defense just could not keep up. The Red gained nearly 300 yards in just two quarters of play. In the second half, the team slowed things down and was not nearly as successful putting up only three points. Colgate’s defense is quicker than Yale’s, but if Cornell comes out of the gate fast, Colgate may have trouble staying in sync.
The Raider defense is particularly strong against the run — senior linebacker Kyle Diener led the league in tackles last season — so this may be a game to let Banks loose and throw the ball another 30 times. Colgate has given up over 300 passing yards per game, while the team has limited opponents to an average of under 100 yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Chris Walker and junior Jack Gellatly have had success thus far, but running the ball too many times on Saturday may hurt the Red, slowing down its offensive drives.
Play Smart Football
This last key may seem unoriginal, but playing smart football is particularly important as an underdog playing a team that has gotten the best of you seven straight times. It’s also Colgate’s home opener and their Homecoming as well. Smart football comes down to limiting preventable mistakes more than anything else. Colgate may very well rush for over 100 yards, and Melville will likely have at least some success, but if Cornell avoids costly turnovers and penalties, the team will have a solid chance of pulling off the upset.
After committing 11 penalties against Bucknell, Cornell limited itself to six against Yale. However, this number is still too high. Colgate is better than both of those teams and will capitalize on free yardage and extra downs. On the other hand, the Red has won the turnover battle by a wide margin in both games — 3-0 against Bucknell and 4-1 versus Yale. In the offseason, the defense focused on takeaways, and it has certainly paid off. Combine that tactic with the lack of interceptions from Dalton Banks, and the Red is undefeated. Melville has thrown four interceptions in three games, so the Cornell defense should be ready to pounce.
If the team follows these three keys, come Saturday afternoon, the Red may be looking at a 3-0 start.