The men of Cornell football knew a change had to be made.
Last week’s deflating 56-7 blowout loss to Princeton capped off a four-game losing streak that followed the Red’s remarkable 3-0 start to the season. A day after the 49-point trouncing, the team gathered for a players-only meeting to “refocus” with just three games left in the year.
“It was really just an opportunity for the older guys to say what they needed to say,” said senior tight end and captain Matt Sullivan. “We talked about ways we can turn this thing back around and it was really helpful.”
The team split into offense and defense and, after the captains spoke, the floor was opened up to the rest of the team. Senior punter Chris Fraser took that time to address the team, hoping to reestablish the squad’s early season confidence and energy.
“I said that, to be honest, the fire that we had those first three games, I don’t think that we’ve had it the past four games,” Fraser said.
According to Fraser and Sullivan, the meeting sparked a change amongst the men of the program. The two seniors both said this past week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game against Dartmouth has been one of the best to date.
“It’s natural after four weeks of failure to have a lackluster attitude,” Sullivan said. “We did what we had to do and had a great week of practice.”
Head coach David Archer ’05 said he noticed the change in mentality in practice as well.
“They’re sharper,” Archer said. “[There’s a] more renewed sense of purpose to finish the season.”
Seven weeks into the year, the team is banged up. Several positions lack enough depth to give starters rest week-to-week. Archer attempted to remedy this exhaustion by shortening up practice a few days this week.
According to the head coach, the rest has done wonders for the team that Archer said needed to get its “freshness back.”
“It kind of feels like the start of the season again,” Archer said.
At the beginning of the year, men up and down the roster praised the team’s confidence. They claimed it was the squad’s x-factor, something that had been missing in years past. Four straight losses certainly have tested that confidence, making some players doubt the abilities of the team.
According to Fraser, the players-only meeting changed all that, reinvigorating members of the squad whose faith in the team’s future success had wavered.
“It’s really, really important to have that confidence to believe in ourselves,” Fraser said, “and that we are the best team in the Ivy League, no matter what the stats say or what the records say. If you believe that, then you’ll play like that.”
Hungry for its first Ivy win of the season, Dartmouth travels to Ithaca on Saturday. The Green, who won a share of the conference crown last season, have not seen anywhere near the same level of success in 2016. Dartmouth graduated seven first team all-Ivy players and 10 of the Green’s 11 starting defenders were lost to graduation as well.
The Red will hope to take advantage of Dartmouth’s relative inexperience to come out with a victory Saturday, snapping the team’s four-game losing streak.
“[Dartmouth] might be playing someone was sitting behind someone for two to three years,” Archer said. “They’re almost like a rookie out there.”
The Green’s star quarterback, Dalyn Williams, who was briefly on the Chicago Bears’ roster this summer, was also a major loss to the squad, although his replacement, Jack Heneghan, has held his own. Heneghan is currently first in the league in passing yards per game, ahead of Cornell’s Dalton Banks.
Dartmouth relies on the passing game more than any other team in the league. The Green has attempted almost 42 passes a game, nearly five more than the next highest team.
This offense could either spell disaster or success for a Cornell team that relies heavily on turnovers. The Red has feasted on overzealous passing offenses this season, totaling the most interceptions among all Ivy teams.
Yet, last week the turnovers did not come, and their absence was certainly missed as the Tigers hung up 643 yards of offense on the Red, the second most allowed in Cornell program history.
With three games left, the Red still has a shot to finish above .500, a first for the program since Archer’s final year as a player on the team, 2005.
But, according to the head coach, the men are not allowing overall season goals to make them lose sight of what is most pressing: a win this Saturday.
“Whoever wants it more is going to win it,” Archer said. “I’m confident that’s going to be Cornell.”