September 23, 2002

Blanks Rejuvenates Cornell Running Game

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Looking at the football team’s 2001 stats and returners, it seemed as if the anemic running game would suffer severely. Evan Simmons and former quarterback Ricky Rahne ’02 were gone, and with them just under 80 percent of the team’s rushing yards.

Then came the first offensive play of the year for Cornell (0-1, 0-0 Ivy). Senior Mick Razzano handed off to sophomore Marcus Blanks, who sprinted for 12 yards and a first down. Cornell had found its premier tailback.

In the end, Bucknell (1-2) won 14-3, but Blanks came up just two yards short of a 100-yard rushing game with 98. He averaged 5.2 per carry. More impressive, though, was that he was able to get those numbers against a Bison squad that went into the game allowing 81.5 ground yards per game. Overall, the Red had 127 rushing yards.

“We moved the ball down there. We moved it pretty easily in fact,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.

It was probably the easiest time the Red’s rushing game has had in recent history. The relatively inexperienced offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, holding Bucknell’s defense in check and giving Blanks space.

“What I saw was a center, a guard, and a tackle doing what they were supposed to do. The holes were there and the first people that were hitting me were in the secondary. That’s what I saw — good run blocking,” the tailback said.

Modest words for the first-time starter. Blanks had one carry for 1 yard all of last year. He’s already multiplied that 98-fold in his first game in 2002.

“I was definitely nervous. After I made my first run, I concentrated on what the defense was doing,” he said.

But Blanks wasn’t the lone Cornell gridder having success on the ground. Razzano also ran on many plays, three for first downs.

“Probably the most surprising thing was how physical Razzano was. He ran the ball very very well. He tucked it down, he’s a big physical quarterback,” said Bison acting head coach Dave Kotulski. “I thought he played with composure and for a kid playing in his first game, I think he played pretty darn well.”

Although it didn’t result in any scores for the Red, the rushing game did give it an advantage in many other categories through the first half. Cornell led in first downs, 13-8; time of possession 19:02-10:58; and rushing yards.

“We were running the ball a lot. We ran it extremely well. We wanted to stick with what works,” said Razzano.

“Whenever you play anybody, you’ve got to take away the run. You can’t let anybody control the line of scrimmage against you,” Kotulski said.

Unfortunately for the Red, trailing 14-0 after halftime increased Razzano’s need to throw. Of the 39 plays on offense in the first half, 24 were carries. That percentage decreased a little in the final 30 minutes to 17 carries of 29 plays.

Even though the much improved running game was one of the bright points of Cornell’s game, Pendergast is still looking for room to improve.

“I expect more. We strive for more. I’m happy about the fact that we rushed for that many yards,” he said.

Archived article by Amanda Angel