We’ve arrived at Senior Day — the annual celebration of Cornell football’s four-year veterans in their last game ever on Schoellkopf Field. This year, though, that celebration comes second to what is a pivotal matchup with in-state rival Columbia, as the Red’s Ivy League title hopes are still alive entering week nine. Yep, you read that right; Cornell-Columbia has title implications.
Sitting at 3-2 in the league, Cornell trails Yale (4-1) by one game and is tied with Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia for second. Should Cornell lose in the Empire State Bowl Saturday, its title hopes are all but out the window.
The Red’s lackluster showing in its shutout loss to Dartmouth Saturday does not inspire overwhelming confidence, but the team is fired up and should be ready to go come gametime, said head coach David Archer ’05. The Lions are no easy opponent, though, bringing a talented squad into Ithaca desperate to avoid a third consecutive loss after an improbable 6-0 start.
Here are three keys for Cornell to secure the victory.
Don’t let emotions get out of hand
No one wants to win this game more than Cornell’s 25 seniors. But the whirlwind of emotions that Saturday will surely bring can be both a blessing and a curse. The Senior Day/biggest game in decades combination will have Cornell’s entire roster amped up for the matchup, but it is games like these when mistakes can start to creep up.
The Red has been well-disciplined throughout the year, taking far fewer penalties than its opponents. But the group should be wary of overcommitting on plays, jumping offsides and taking personal foul penalties.
The team has every reason to be excited, nostalgic, motivated, you name it. But that’s no excuse for playing sloppy football. Columbia is too good a team for that.
Reestablish the Run
After dropping its first three games, Archer and his staff reevaluated the team’s struggling offense and embraced a run-first mentality.
Since then, Cornell has run the ball far more than it has thrown it, and the results back up Archer’s decision. But Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth was a low point for the running game, as the group totaled just 52 yards on 34 attempts, compared to its average of nearly 150 per game entering the contest. The Red stuck to it all day long in Hanover, but in its first game without junior running back and last year’s All-Ivy selection Chris Walker, the Red only managed a meager 1.5 yards per carry.
Saturday is, first and foremost, about re-establishing that ground game and boosting the confidence of backs like senior Jack Gellatly and sophomore Harold Coles.
Columbia has shown a degree of vulnerability at times against the run this season, and the Red should be able to take advantage of that. The Lions are considerably more formidable against the pass, and junior quarterback Dalton Banks’ recent struggles don’t give the team a compelling reason to throw the ball anyway.
Take Away Hill’s Favorite Targets
Columbia’s passing offense is vastly improved from last season, thanks in large part to quarterback Anders Hill. Hill has already thrown for over 2,000 yards, along with 15 passing touchdowns and three rushing scores. The senior’s favorite target is Josh Wainwright, who has accounted for 56 receptions, 734 yards and seven touchdowns. Ronald Smith II has emerged in Columbia’s last five games, catching 27 passes for 418 yards and four TDs.
After those two, however, Columbia’s receiving corps starts to thin out. Ranked atop the league, Cornell’s pass defense has excelled particularly in recent weeks and has the secondary to take away an opposing team’s top pass-catchers.
The Red struggled a bit against Princeton’s receivers, but neither Wainwright not Smith has the size to give Cornell’s defensive backs the same kind of problems Saturday. Expect a big day for the Cornell secondary.