Arriving this weekend in Ithaca: The Greatest Show on Earth.
No, the circus isn’t coming to town, but two of the most prolific passing offenses in the history of the Ivy League will clash for an outright conference title at Schoellkopf Field on Saturday afternoon. Terming the game “an aerial battle” is like saying signing Alex Rodriguez is going to be “expensive.”
With what will be the first time that two Ivy teams have met for the outright title on the last weekend since 1991 (the ninth time overall), Cornell fans should expect to see one of the most wide-open battles in the storied history of this rivalry.
With all that in mind, The Sun breaks down the battle position-by-position and tries to get a better grasp on what to expect.
Cornell: Junior quarterback Ricky Rahne is undoubtably one of the best signal callers in the league. He’s completed 224 of 419 pass attempts for 2,638 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. This weekend Rahne will have a chance to pass the career marks of quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor ’94 for both completions and yards if he completes 20 passes for 278 yards. He is extremely confident in the clutch, and is likely the best quarterback in the league when under pressure late in a game. Rahne was named Ivy League offensive player of the week after his performance against Harvard this year.
Penn: Junior Gavin Hoffman is undoubtably one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He’s completed 245 of 352 passes (an unbelievable 69.6%) for 2,884 yards. That number is just 369 yards shy of the Ivy League record, a highly attainable number for a guy who threw for 476 yards against Brown this year. He’s also tossed 22 touchdowns on the year. Hoffman has led Penn back from huge second-half deficits in the past three weeks, proving himself a leader and comeback artist. He has ten 300-yard passing games in 19 starts. Hoffman has been Ivy League offensive player of the week twice this year.
Breakdown: If there’s is any advantage here, it’s that Rahne can scramble for yardage better than Hoffman and buy time. Other than that, it’s a dead tossup.
Cornell: With 584 yards in eight games, including three 100-yard rushing performances, junior running back Evan Simmons has finally emerged as a much-needed threat for Cornell. He has six touchdowns on the year. Junior Justin Dunleavy has only 65 yards rushing on the year, but has an important six touchdowns, including three against Brown. He has also caught 36 passes for 265 yards.
Penn: Penn has two main rushing threats, Kris Ryan and Mike Verille. Ryan is the better runner, rushing for 440 yards in only six games due to injuries. Verille has 385 yards in eight games. Neither is a huge threat right now, though they have scored a combined 10 touchdowns and could potentially present problems for a rushing defense that has had problems at times this year. Verille is also a threat as a receiver, having caught 23 passes for 180 yards. Only Cornell averages fewer rushing yards per game.
Breakdown: If Ryan is 100%, which is in question, he will be the best back on the field. Simmons has been better lately, having rushed for 100 yards three weeks in a row. This one is too close to call, a manual recount could be required.
Cornell: This group has been rightfully called the best receiving corps in the league, possessing a deadly combination of speed and power. Everyone knows senior co-captain Joe Splendorio is a threat (he caught five passes for 120-yards in last year’s Penn game), but the emergence of junior Tim Hermann and sophomore Keith Ferguson has given Rahne plenty of options down the field. Add the speed and tenacity of senior Edgar Romney and you have a very big, diverse and complete group. This group’s size will be a huge factor in this game.
Penn: Junior Rob Milanese and Senior Doug O’Neill have been on the receiving end of the majority of Hoffman’s passes this year. The two average 7.44 and 5.33 receptions per game respectively. Milanese, who caught five passes for 83 yards against Cornell last year, has 819 yards receiving this year despite being only 5-10. O’Neill, who is more powerful and larger at 6-1, has 633 yards receiving. Hoffman has done a good job of spreading the ball around, as six different Quaker players have at least 20 catches this season.
Breakdown: In this league, size matters. The bigger Cornell wideouts will dominate the Penn DBs all day.
Cornell: Cornell’s offensive line, especially with the emergence of freshman Larry Stark has improved dramatically of late and has been opening holes for Simmons. The squad is led by a number of seniors, including Chris Morosetti, Charles Mitchell and Dru Vaughn, all of whom have worked extremely hard to get to this point in their careers. This undersized group has allowed 30 sacks on the year, but is helped by Rahne’s scrambling ability.
Penn: Part of the reason Hoffman’s number have been so good is because this group has given him time this year. Despite being young, it has allowed only 16 sacks this season, one of the best marks in the league. By giving Hoffman time, it has really been the catalyst for a number of Penn’s comebacks. Should this group be able to push Cornell’s defensive line back, it will be a long day for the carnelian and white.
Breakdown: Look at the numbers. Despite not having a great running game, the Penn line has allowed only 16 sacks and might be able to overpower the Red defensive line. Quarterbacks can’t complete 70% of their passes if they don’t have time.
Cornell: The most oft-criticized group for this team really stepped up big last week at Columbia, holding one of the league’s best backs to a season-low 73-yards on 18 attempts. The line is undersized, but is a strong group. It will be required to get pressure on Hoffman, which has not been its strongest point this season. The d-line is led by last week’s Ivy League defensive player of the year, senior Jay Bolton, who has five sacks on the season — four unassisted — good for a tie for eighth in the league.
Penn: This group is extremely strong for Penn. The Quakers have only allowed 1,121 yards of rushing offense on the season, third best in the Ivies. They have the second-best average in terms of yards allowed per carry, giving up only 3.3 yards per rush. As with Cornell, getting pressure on the quarterback will be vital if the entire defense is to stop Rahne and Co. from passing all over the Quakers on Saturday. Junior John Galan and sophomore Chris Pennington are tied for fourth and second respectively in the league in sacks.
Breakdown: Hands down, Penn’s rushing defense is better. The Red stepped up big last week, but one week does not a season make. The key for both squads will be getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
Cornell: Cornell is led here by senior co-captain, linebacker Dan Wyandt, who leads the team in tackles with 77. The defensive backs could be outmatched by the speed of the Penn wide receivers. This group will be tested like never before this weekend. Defensive backs Vincent Bates, Jimmy Vattes and Phil Rigueur will need to step up and make plays.
Penn: Penn is led here by sophomore linebacker Travis Belden, who leads the team in tackles with 69. The defensive backs could be outmatched by the size of the Cornell wide receivers. This group will be tested like never before this week
end. Defensive backs D.L. Bouldrick, Stephen Faulk and Kunle Williams will need to step up and make plays.
Breakdown: Despite having three more interceptions on the year (nine versus six) the Penn backfield will have its hands full with a group of powerful receivers who can outjump people for the ball.
Cornell: Junior Peter Iverson is one of the most accurate kickers in the Ivies, having converted seven of nine field goals this year. The left-footer hasn’t been called upon in three of the past of the four weeks for field goals, but has converted 24 of 27 extra points on the year. Freshman Joe Hull is averaging 34.6 yards per punt. Vincent Bates has 745 yards on 36 kickoff returns this year, an impressive 20.7-yard average. The field goal block team, led by Splendorio, is the best in the league.
Penn: Senior Jason Feinberg is one of the best kickers in the Ivies, and is now the highest scoring kicker in Ivy history with 209 points after last week’s performance. He is only two points shy of breaking the all-time Penn record for scoring. He has kicked 14 of 19 field goals successfully on the year, including 47 and 42 yarders last week in a four for four performance. Ryan Lazzeri is averaging 35.0 yards per punt. Faulk has 497 yards on 22 kickoff returns, including a 64-yard return.
Breakdown: Each team has good kickers, punters and return men. Cornell grabs the advantage with its ability to block extra points and field goals.
Cornell: This seems to be destiny’s team. Three wins on last-second missed field goals or extra points by opposing teams is an Ivy record. All five Ivy wins have been fourth quarter comebacks. If there is a way to win the game, this team just finds it. After last year’s loss to Dartmouth, this team has been hungry. Cornell wants the title.
Penn: Penn has pulled off three huge comebacks in a row to get to this point. It is as good under the pressure as Cornell. Head coach Al Bagnoli is as good a coach as any in this league, and has the titles to prove it. This team feels it was slighted when it was ranked behind Yale and Cornell at the beginning of the year, and would love a chance to prove the prognosticators wrong.
Breakdown: Give this one to Cornell. The Cardiac Kids are simply the best at winning when they shouldn’t. They simply have “something about them.”
One thing is for certain, this game won’t be over until the clock reads 0:00. If this game was going to be a blowout, expect Penn to win. If it’s close, the Red should come out ahead.
Archived article by Charles Persons