When the Red takes to the Schoellkopf Field carpet to resume its Ivy League campaign against Harvard in tomorrow afternoon’s Homecoming contest, head coach Tim Pendergast will have a chance to showcase his new look football squad. If the Red’s last two contests are any indication, the crowd should see a team that appears to be slowly but surely finding the character and grit that propelled it to a near Ivy championship last season.
The Crimson is the second of three consecutive home opponents for the Red after a near upset of then No. 8 Lehigh last weekend. Brown will visit Ithaca next weekend to wrap up the trio of contests.
Harvard is among the league’s elite this year. Ranked second in preseason polls, the team has not disappointed prognosticators, sporting an unblemished 3-0 mark (1-0 Ivy) on the young season.
If recent history is any indicator tomorrow’s game should be mightily contested. The Red has won the last two games — each by a one point margin.
Last year at Harvard, senior quarterback Ricky Rahne engineered a miraculous second half comeback to erase a 28-0 halftime deficit to win the game 29-28. A missed field goal for the Crimson in the final seconds will have Harvard entertaining notions of revenge as it takes the field tomorrow.
Cornell’s chances of victory will rest largely on its ability to improve the run defense, considering that Harvard boasted the leagues most potent run attack last year. Junior Nick Palazzo will be a marked man for the Red. The honorable All-Ivy selection has chalked up 229 yards in his first three games this season.
Pendergast is well aware of the concern’s surrounding the rush defense.
“We’re going to try to do our best to shut down the run. We haven’t done the job yet consistently that we want to do,” he conceded, adding “We hope that this week will provide us another opportunity to show that we can do it.”
The Red has shown progress, limiting the Mountain Hawks to 204 yards, after it allowed Colgate’s running game to explode for 290 ground yards the previous week.
“We did a better job defending the run [against Lehigh],” Pendergast affirmed.
Harvard is currently averaging 196.3 yards per game on the ground.
Cornell, on the other hand, hopes that is its running game will continue to play a larger role in its overall offensive scheme.
Pendergast remains confident in his commitment to the run game and is aware the game circumstances curtailed it from reaching its full potential last week.
“We’re always going to continue with the running game. Situations didn’t allow us to continue to run the ball [like] we would have wanted to,” he said. “If we can stay on schedule and not be forced off schedule then we’ll be able to run the ball.”
The Crimson is more permeable than last season, holding opponents to an average of 167 yards/game. But they have been without standout linebacker Dante Balestracci for the past two weeks. He is sidelined with an injury.
Pendergast expressed uncertainty when asked he thought Balestracci’s absence would cause Harvard to revise its game plan.
“I don’t know if it will change their defense. They’re a pretty good defense,” he said.
The Red knows that consistency is something that has been largely lacking to this point and it is poised to improve that.
“We have to play four quarters,” Pendergast declared. “We’ve done a pretty good job defensively in the first half of ball games. And we’ve done a decent job offensively in the second half of ball games. But we haven’t done a good job offensively in the first half and we haven’t done a good job in the second half with defense. It’s like we’re playing two different games with two different teams.”
The Red is hoping its tendency to play solid defense in the early stages of games will counter Harvard’s propensity to score early. Of the Crimson’s 100 points on the season, 35 have come in the first 15 minutes.
Simmons offered his formula for success, “[We need] a balanced attack and getting the ball into the hands of the guys who need to be making big plays for us.”
Meanwhile the young receiving corps has provided many highlights. Junior Keith Ferguson, bothered by injury in the week leading up to the Lehigh game, turned in a strong performance last weekend grabbing eight catches. Meanwhile, sophomore John Kellner has emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Red and continues to stake his claim as a legitimate deep threat.
The players are also well aware of the emerging rival between the two clubs and expect a grudge match.
“[Recent history] has turned this into a real rivalry,” Simmons noted, comparing the magnitude of Saturday’s match to the legendary Harvard-Yale game.
Archived article by Gary Schueller