The passing game will be key for Cornell this weekend in Princeton.

Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Senior Photographer

The passing game will be key for Cornell this weekend in Princeton.

October 25, 2017

Football Readies for Pivotal Nationally Televised Bout With Princeton, Hoping to Avenge 2016 Embarrassment

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Plastered on the walls of the Cornell football locker room are the numbers “56-7,” a reminder of the shortcomings in last year’s 49-point demolishing at the hands of Princeton that has since been seared into the minds of each player.

“That’s definitely the most embarrassing thing I’ve been a part of at this university,” said junior linebacker Reis Seggebruch, who led the team with 12 tackles in last year’s game against Princeton. “We want to get revenge for that obviously and to do that on their field will be nice to get back at them there.”

This time last year, Cornell was in the midst of some of its most mentally strenuous play in recent history. The team followed a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Brown with the loss at home to Princeton — two very different games which brought very different, but equally disappointing sentiments into the heart of the team.

“While the one was heartbreaking, the other was demoralizing,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “Both of them get their own flavor of a revenge that’s wanted. They end up with the same motivational level, but the root cause is different.”

But this year, deep in a campaign the team has labeled “The Revenge Tour” — trying to flip tough losses from last year into wins — Cornell has already avenged one of the Brown-Princeton losses, blowing out the Bears this past weekend on Homecoming

With the heartache of last year’s crushing loss to the Tigers still fresh in mind, the Red will look to add another victim to its revenge tour Saturday night on national television at Princeton against the Ivy League’s most potent offense.

Fueling the Red leading into the weekend bout is a renewed confidence that comes with the first 2-1 league start since 2000, making it the first time the clash against Princeton has had a real bearing on Ivy League standings since before Archer came to Cornell as a student.

To become 3-1, Cornell will have to cool off the most threatening team in the Ancient Eight. Owners of the top scoring offense in the league with 40.7 points per game, the Tigers have notched at least 50 points in their last three games, including a 52-7 shellacking of Harvard last Friday in a battle of preseason No. 1 teams. Princeton has scored at least 24 points in every game this season, while Cornell has done so just twice.

Princeton demolished Cornell, 56-7, on Schoellkopf last year.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Princeton demolished Cornell, 56-7, on Schoellkopf last year.

“I don’t think we played well enough against Brown to beat Princeton,“ Seggebruch said. “[Saturday’s] going to be a big bar for our defense to see where we are at.”

Cornell, on the other hand, owns the top total defense in the league, giving up 308.7 yards per game, including just 161 to Brown on Saturday.

“We’ve just totally stunned the run unlike the past and we just have to keep that going and get pressure on the quarterback,” said sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Landsman.

Landsman and the defensive line will go up against a Princeton starting five that has given up just six sacks on the year, second lowest in the league.

Princeton’s defense is no joke, either. The Tigers are tied with Yale for the top scoring defense in the league, both allowing just 18.2 points per game. Princeton also boasts the top rush defense in the league, giving up only 71.5 yards per game on the ground — third in the FCS.

But the Tigers severely lack at pass defense, sitting last in the category with 280.5 yards against per game in the air. The Tigers may be without reigning Bushnell Cup finalist, all-American and first-team All-Ivy defensive lineman Kurt Holuba, which would allow Cornell junior quarterback Dalton Banks to let plays develop more.

The offensive line, the position on the team with the least starting experience, has begun to put the pieces together on run blocking. Asked if the same can be done for pass blocking against Princeton, junior center J. Edward Keating bluntly said, “Of course, yes. Simple answer.”

“With good leadership and playing a lot of games together it has brought us together as a unit,” Keating added. “Instead of worrying about what plays to call, everyone now knows what to do. We get to hammer down and hit people which creates holes pretty easily.”

As a team, Cornell will face its biggest test at the most pivotal point in the season with the NBC cameras rolling and the Princeton floodlights shining.

Regardless, the extra novelty of this game is “going to bring extra juice to the team,” Landsman said. “It doesn’t really get better than that for us. We really love it.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. from Princeton’s raucous Powers Field, streaming on NBC Sports.