Following a three-game losing streak, most football teams would be downtrodden. Most football teams would take their feet off the gas pedal. Most football teams would likely not have the same spirit it entered the season with.
But Cornell is not most football teams.
While a three-game skid may have dampered the hopes and excitement of fans, the men of Cornell football remain in the same state they have been all year: confident and prepared for the next game.
Much of this confidence amidst the losses stems from the fact that the team knows if a couple of small things had gone differently, the team could very well be 5-1 going into Saturday’s clash with Princeton.
“When you look at it … in the last two games, we were almost there,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “Realistically in the past two weeks, our defense has played well enough for us to win. It was really close these past two weeks and we could have been sitting here 5-1.”
Keeping the physical shortcomings in mind, Archer also said he believes that the sometimes overzealous mental status that comes with a three-game win streak to open season hampered the team through the recent skid.
“We all said, ‘Look, maybe we got a little too ahead of ourselves, let’s just take it game by game,’” Archer continued. “I think it’s human nature when you rattle off three straight wins you look to the future and get [overexcited].”
That does not matter any more, as the team now focuses solely on the next game with what sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks has characterized as a “short memory.”
“I think we need to remember why we started 3-0,” said senior captain and receiver Ben Rogers.
Princeton (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) poses a unique challenge for the Red (3-3, 1-2). Many of Cornell’s previous opponents have featured a few core players that defines each team’s playing capabilities.
For Brown, Alex Jette accounted for 196 total yards and two touchdowns, while Colgate’s quarterback-receiver duo of Jake Melville and John Maddaluna cut the Red’s defense up. Melville’s 399 passing yards and three touchdowns to Maddaluna — 261 receiving yards — gave Cornell it’s biggest test of the year.
Looking at team rosters, there is no one player on Princeton’s offense whose yardage total is shocking. What is shocking is how much the wealth on the team is shared.
Junior safety Nick Gesualdi said he knows that having to worry about so many targets could be even more of a challenge for his defense than focusing on just one playmaker.
“We definitely need to be over-prepared for the personnel they have on the field,” he said. “We need to be really sound.”
Another dangerous component of the Tigers offense is its unique use of its Swiss Army knife of a man, John Lovett. So far this season, Lovett leads the Ivy League with 12 touchdowns — twice the next highest scorer — and has over 160 yards at quarterback, running back and receiver.
Lovett’s versatility makes him a tricky player to defend.
“They like to run specific plays with specific players,” Gesualdi said. “We need to know where Lovett is at all times and know the plays that they run with him and different types of routes.”
Princeton’s defense, too, is not to be messed with. Thus far this season, the Tigers hold the title as best rush defense in the league, limiting opponents to a mere 85 yards per game — almost 30 fewer than Harvard in second.
Because of this, Cornell’s No. 2 rated Ivy pass offense looks poised to take advantage of the Tigers’ pass defense, second worst in the Ivy League.
“They have a really good [defensive] line and that is something that will test us for sure,” Rogers said. “We’d love to be able to open the playbook, sling it around and let guys make plays.”
Archer added that “we throw the deep ball well and [weather permitting] having that in our arsenal Saturday is going to be a huge difference.”
Whatever the recent outcomes have been, and regardless of the anguish that comes with losing games that felt like they should have been wins, the team knows that if it does what it originally set out to do, winning days will return to Ithaca, according to Rogers.
“We played good football and have a lot of good football left in us,” the senior captain said. “If we execute at our best we think we can beat anyone.”