Just over a month ago, the sky was the limit for Cornell football. The Red was undefeated, and the team could not help but wonder about the possibility of contending for a league championship. Fast forward five weeks, and now the team is just looking to avoid another last place finish.
The Red sprinted out of the gate to a 3-0 start, but after its thrilling comeback win over Colgate back in early October, it has dropped five straight.
“It’s been an up and down year obviously for us,” said senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber. “We are still having fun with everything we do and still working hard to make these last two weeks the best we’ve had yet.”
Head coach David Archer ’05 said he is pleased with the way his team has practiced all week, despite the losing streak.
“Everyone feels good… and I think there’s a ton of resolve,” he said. “We had a really good week of practice too.”
Despite this enthusiasm, Cornell (3-5, 1-4 Ivy) is now tied for last in the Ivy League, and another loss at Columbia (2-6, 1-4) this weekend in the annual “Empire State Bowl” could solidify that position.
The Red has defeated the Lions in each of the last three years — the only wins in each of the last two — and hopes to make it four straight under Archer and get the season back on track.
The Lions have won just two games this season — only one within the Ivy League — but have been competitive almost every week. Just last week, they gave league-leading Harvard a run for its money but fell short, squandering a third quarter lead to lose 28-21.
Saturday is also Columbia’s senior day, and Archer and does not underestimate the strength of this year’s team, despite the Red’s prior success.
“Columbia is a challenging opponent for sure — especially on their senior day,” he said.
Weber noted that the day’s festivities will most likely give the Lions and energy boost out of the gate. Managing that adrenaline, however, will be a key to notching a win.
“We need to make sure that we match their energy from the start,” Weber said. “[And] that we come out firing on all cylinders and that we are ready to go.”
Statistically, the Lions certainly have not run opponents out of town. Columbia’s offense has scored just 14 points or fewer in six of eight games, and they rank last in the league in both points-per-game and yards-per-game. Still, for a Cornell defense that ranks seventh in points allowed, the Lions should not be underestimated.
Archer said the team will pay attention to the run defense, which had major problems against Dartmouth last weekend.
“Defensively, we’ve really got to show up and confuse their quarterback,” Archer said. They like to run him, and we can’t let any big plays happen.”
Weber is also not looking past the Lions’ offense and win-loss record.
“Columbia is a more than capable football team, so we are going to come out fighting from the start,” he said. “They have good players in their skill positions just like every team in the league, but for whatever reason they haven’t found success.”
Defensively, Columbia has had more respectable results. They give up, on average, 24 points and 345 yards per game, good for fourth in the league in both categories.
Archer said he knows his team must play well and keep putting points on the board if it wants to continue success against Columbia.
“We need to score some points on Saturday,” he said. They play a lot of tight man coverage, and they love the box so we’ve got to win our matchups at the receiver position.”
Cornell’s offense has been inconsistent throughout the losing streak. In recent weeks, sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks — who exceeded any and all expectations early on — has come back down to Earth. Banks managed to throw for over 290 yards per game in the first four games of the year, but since that average has dropped to 187 yards.
The Red has struggled to establish a running game as well, gaining well under 100 yards in consecutive games against Dartmouth and Princeton. The Red ranks last in the league in rushing yards.
“We have got to establish a running game this weekend,” Archer emphasized.
Cornell nearly secured win number four last week, but 14 unanswered fourth quarter points and a series of Cornell miscues propelled Dartmouth to the victory, 17-13. Like last year, these crushing ends to games have become all too common for Archer’s squad.
According to Archer, however, being competitive nearly every game this year is emblematic of the team’s — and the program’s — growth all season long.
“This is how I see it: we have won three football games and we’ve been competitive in three more so far,” Archer said. “Last year we won one football game and were competitive in three, so I see this as a massive step forward for our program… Outside of the Princeton game we have been competitive in every game.”
That being said, the Red has more work to do, and Archer and the team have their minds set on the next two weeks.
“I think that we have taken a major step forward, but right now we’re focused on the two games we have left to really send our seniors out the right way and to create momentum for our underclassmen,” he said.
Weber said he is confident that, given the team’s resilience, it will find a way to finish the season strong.
“Starting 3-0 is something that we are really proud,” Weber said, “but I’ll be even prouder if we can finish this year out 1-0 each week. I’ve known all along how resilient this group of guys is… We are going to come out fighting for these next two weeks. Losing however many games in a row is certainly a challenge, but we’ll show the true character of this team by how we bounce back and continue to persevere throughout the season.”
That quest starts Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Big Apple.