Just a little over a month ago, Cornell football looked poised for season that defied its preseason last place ranking. A team that once had touchdowns to spare now finds itself searching for where the season went off the tracks.
In last week’s loss to Dartmouth, the Red started off looking like the team that began 3-0, as sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks was able to march his offense down the field, although the effort it resulted in just two field goals. It was a disappointing loss for the squad, with a 13-3 lead dissolving in the fourth quarter.
The shades of solid play with Dartmouth are what the Red must build upon going into the last two matchups of the season against Columbia and Penn. Especially with Columbia, Cornell has a chance to repeat strong performances against a team it has had recent success against.
In order to salvage the second-to-last game, the men of Cornell football must follow these three keys for redemption in New York City.
Move Around Columbia’s Pass Defense
Surprisingly, a Columbia team with a single Ivy win has found itself at second place in Ivy League pass defense. It held Dartmouth’s No. 1 pass offense to a single passing touchdown — the Green’s only touchdown in the 9-7 loss.
The Lions’ secondary does not prides itself on takeaways, as the defense has amassed only four interceptions in eight games — the worst in the Ivy League. Because of this, Banks can feel comfortable taking more of the risks he took early in the season that powered him to big games and, more importantly, some wins.
Instead, Columbia possess a highly rated pass-rush that has recorded over two sacks a game, good enough for third in the league. On the flip side, Cornell’s offensive line has allowed just under three sacks per game, leaving an open door for Columbia’s dual-headed pass defense — strong secondary and firm pass rushing — to strike again.
Banks should look to get the ball out quickly, looking for short-yard gains to lead his offense, like where he found success early on against Dartmouth, but also not be afraid to take risks against a defense that has struggled to take the ball away.
Kill the Momentum
The game is Columbia’s last home game of the season, making it the Lions’ senior day. Undoubtedly, the Lions will come out of the gate with a pep in their step, hoping to win one last home game for a group of guys who gave three years to the organization.
This spirit spells trouble for the Red, as Cornell has had consistent trouble getting out of the gate early, especially on the road. At Brown, Harvard and Colgate, the Red went into halftime facing deficits.
Being able to come out strong against the Lions will be imperative to a win this weekend. Senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber said this goal has been stressed during the current week of practice, so if the Red is able to stick to this gameplan, a halftime lead should put the team in great place for its fourth win.
Focus on the Now
Sure, the men of Cornell football have not had the season they expected since the 3-0 start. But despite this fact, it is important not to lose sight of what is still left to come.
Sitting at 3-5, the Red still has a chance to finish the season at .500, and Columbia poses a very possible first step to reaching that goal. The team has always noted how it treats every game like a completely new slate, not keeping prior results in mind.
Cornell has been very close to winning many past games, an eerie repetition of many contests last season. That’s no longer important. Dwelling on the missed opportunities can cause any team to lose hope. The team should not focus on what can be learned from past losses and not let the mistakes define the end of the season.
There is still time and there is still hope for the team to make the most of the last two games, especially for the seniors.