The Cornell and Princeton football teams enter tomorrow afternoon’s game at Schoellkopf Field on very divergent paths.
The No. 15 Tigers have won all six of their contests this season, including three against Ivy foes — good enough for a share of the conference lead with Yale. Princeton is coming off an emotional come-from-behind 31-28 victory over then-unbeaten Harvard, and, with only four games remaining, have its sights set squarely on an Ivy League championship.
On the other hand, Cornell has yet to capture its first conference victory after three attempts. Its latest defeat was its worst of the season, falling to Brown, 28-7, and dropping its overall record to 2-5.
“That was the biggest win Princeton’s had in a long time and it’s our toughest loss since I’ve been here — tough in the sense of just not showing what we were capable of in the second half,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “It’s an important game for us to react and reload.”
Last week in Providence, R.I., the Red put forth a lackluster effort in the second half, as the Bears scored 21 unanswered points en route to a dominating victory. Junior tailback Luke Siwula collected only 49 yards on 16 carries, with only one rush coming after halftime.
“Our team has been very upbeat this week. I laid it out very honestly after the game: that was the first time since I’ve been head coach that I wasn’t proud of their effort in the second half,” Knowles said. “I told them they had to decide what they were going to do with the rest of the year and that I expected them to play with a lot of passion and a lot of pride. And they’ve had a great week of practice.”
Quite possibly the best news for Cornell is the site of tomorrow’s game, as the Red have posted a 2-1 record at home compared to a winless mark on the road this season. In fact, earlier this season the Red knocked off No. 23 Albany at Schoellkopf, and will look to beat a third ranked opponent at home over the last two seasons.
“Schoellkopf is a special place for us and we like to have the best opponent we can come in here,” Knowles said. “It’s an opportunity to show what our team is all about.”
The Tigers will certainly prove to be a daunting challenge, as they have been firing on all cylinders of late. On offense, Princeton is led by quarterback Jeff Terrell, with the senior ranking second in the league in passing yards per game at 218. He also trails only Penn’s Robert Irvin in completion percentage (58.2). His favorite target is junior wideout Brendan Circle, who has hauled in 27 passes for 463 yards and three touchdowns — one of which was the game-winning score against the Crimson.
“They throw it extremely well,” Knowles said. “They hit a lot of intermediate routes. We need to make sure we’re in the right coverages at the right time. We need to mix up our play calling on defense and try to keep Terrell off balance. But, he’s an excellent quarterback.”
As for the rushing attack, Princeton employs a tailback by committee, with R.C. Lagomarsino leading the way with 255 yards on 76 carries. Terrell is also a threat outside the pocket, carrying the ball 70 times for 197 yards.
“They have a lot of weapons and you can’t consume yourself with all of them,” Knowles said. “But, you have to take calculated risk of when you’re going to defend one thing and when you’re going to defend something else without putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Defensively, the Tigers have allowed only 14.5 points a game, outscoring their opponents, 134-87, this year. Eight different players have recorded over 20 tackles.
“They’re actually more of a defensively-driven team,” Knowles said. “On offense, we need to establish the running game but we also need to take more chances in a game like this and keep them off balance.”
The Red will have its hands full in all facets of the game, but should be motivated to improve on last week’s performance. If the past two years are any indication of this matchup, with the games between the two teams being decided by a total of four points, tomorrow’s game should be a tight one.
“I do look at it as an opportunity for our team and for our program,” Knowles said. “There’s not going to be an Ivy League championship this year, which hurts, particularly for our senior class. But it can be a program win because of the fact that Princeton is so highly regarded and we’ve struggled. Anything can happen in this league from Saturday to Saturday and I expect our guys to compete hard.”