Controlling the clock is a big factor in any offense, even one that is tends to be as pass happy as Cornell’s. Many will consider this position to be a weakness for Cornell this year, as the graduation of Deon Harris ’00 left a large hole to be fill behind junior quarterback Ricky Rahne.
The Cornell coaching staff, however, feels differently. The group has a great deal of confidence in its backs this year, and hope to add rushing balance to the passing offense.
The duty of filling Harris’ shoes will lie primarily this year with junior Evan Simmons, who emerged from training camps as the greatest threat for Cornell in the backfield.
Simmons has what Harris didn’t necessarily possess, breakout speed. The Cornell rushing offense this year should be geared more for sweeps and pitchouts, rather than the powerful surges Harris was known for. If the offensive line can handle these situations, Simmons could surprise a lot of defenses this year for a number of yards.
Behind Simmons at the fullback position will be sophomore Nate Archer. Archer’s inexperience at the position is a concern for the Red, but his size is not. Archer weighs in at 215-pounds, all in a 6’0″ frame and will be a key blocker for Simmons both up the middle and on the outside. He is also a very tough player, having lettered in high school at both the fullback and linebacker positions.
Archer could actually be the key to Cornell’s rushing success, because his ability to mature into a top blocker will open holes for Simmons. If this happens, it will force opponents to respect the run and stop guarding the pass in nickel and dime situations.
“Fullback is a concern for us. [Archer’s] done some things well, but the biggest thing for him right now is the consistency factor,” said head coach Pete Mangurian.
Backing up Archer will be a pair of freshmen, Eddie Dixon and T.J. Liles.
“For all three of those guys, their strength is blocking,” said Mangurian. “And that’s what we needed.”
Dixon is another big, strong fullback. He stands 5’10”, but weighs in at 210-pounds Liles is no different, standing in at 6’1″ and weighing 230-pounds Any of the three could possibly mature into a powerful blocker for the Red.
Junior Justin Dunleavy will be moving from his fullback position of a year ago to be the primary back up to Simmons. Last year, Dunleavy played his heart out for the Red and played one of the tougher positions on the field despite being badly undersized for it. At only 5’7″ and 179-pounds he is not a huge player, but don’t tell him that.
“Last year we had Justin Dunleavy [at fullback] and that took a tremendous amount of wear and tear on him. He was there because he was a tough guy who knew what to do,” Mangurian said.
Dunleavy returns as the most experienced person in the backfield for Cornell, as the junior caught 366 yards worth of passes, good enough for third on the team. Mangurian plans to use Dunleavy primarily against nickel and dime packages in second and third down, giving the junior workhorse a chance to rest up and then make big plays on short yardage situations with passes underneath and into the flat. The Red is so deep at wide receiver that Dunleavy will often be left to be guarded by an opposing team’s linebacker. This is a situation that the Red feels confident it can win, meaning Justin will again be a third-down receiver, making the critical plays for the offense.
One of the biggest surprises this year for the Red has been the play of freshman Chad Nice, who showed several explosive moves in the preseason scrimmage. Nice has good speed and could be another player who will give the Red a chance to turn short gains into big plays.
The speed is obviously something that excites Mangurian, who said “three deep into the backfield we are faster than we have ever been [at Cornell], top to bottom. Our third back is right now faster than anybody we’ve had back there.
“I feel good about that [situation]. We just have to make adjustments on how you try to run the football,” Mangurian said. “You just can’t sit there and try to slam it up inside all the time. You have to move [the running backs] around and get them into space.”
Finding ways to get these speedsters open will be the biggest challenge for the Red this year. What the running backs do once they have that space should be fun to watch.
Archived article by Charles Persons