Tomorrow afternoon, the Cornell community will have its first opportunity to watch the 2002 edition of the football team. Coming off a 14-3 loss to Bucknell in its season opener, the Red (0-1, 0-0 Ivy) opens its Ivy League schedule with a Homecoming date against an explosive Yale (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) squad.
With hundreds of former players and alumni expected to be in attendance for the home opener, the team may have an extra spring in its step.
“There’s an exciting feel all over campus, and you’ve got to embody that and take it on the field,” senior co-captain Nate Archer said. “As a senior, I’ve got a lot of friends who aren’t on the team anymore. I’ve been getting calls all week, and they’re telling me they’re coming back. It’s going to be a great experience getting to play in front of all these guys. Some of our best friends are seeing their first Cornell game outside of a helmet.”
“It’s a very special game because it will probably be a game where we’ll have the largest, if not one of the largest, crowds,” head coach Tim Pendergast agreed. “This game has a little juice because it’s Homecoming.”
However, Pendergast explained that every game the Red plays this season should be weighted equally.
“I think that every game is a special game. We want to play well every week. We’d like to leave the alumni feeling good when they walk out of the stadium in the afternoon, but I want to do that whether we’re at Harvard, at Colgate, at Penn, or whether we’re here at Schoellkopf,” he added.
If the Red is to win in front of its alumni tomorrow, it must cure its ills in the red zone. A combination of a dropped pass, penalties, and a blocked field goal contributed to just three Cornell points in its four trips inside the Bucknell 20-yard line during its loss last Saturday.
“We emphasized that area of the field this week just to make sure that if we do get down there we don’t miss the opportunity,” Archer emphasized.
While the Red faltered near the goal line, it was extremely impressive moving the ball against a nationally-ranked Bucknell defensive unit. Cornell had an 11-play drive as well as a time-consuming 17-play march — neither of which resulted in points.
Sophomore tailback Marcus Blanks, starting in the first game of his career, racked up 98 yards on 19 carries, both of which were career highs. More impressive than Blanks’s performance was the work of the young offensive line and lead blocker Archer. On the night, Cornell rushed for 129 yards against the Bison, which had allowed just 81 yards on the ground previously. This ability to control the ball allowed the Red to hold a substantial edge in time of possession.
“Nobody really knows what we’ve got at O-line,” Archer said. “I think the guys are one of our most talented position groups. They just happen to be young.”
As was the case against Bucknell, it will be critical for the Red to control the clock against a high-powered Yale offense that scored 49 points in its opening win over San Diego. The Bulldogs, led by new junior starting quarterback Alvin Cowan, racked up 615 yards of total offense in its victory.
Cowan, the Ivy League’s Offensive Player of the Week, tied a modern-day Yale record with six touchdowns on the afternoon, with three by way of air and three on ground. The junior completed 18 of his 22 pass attempts for 283 yards. He also showed his ball-carrying skills with 114 yards on 12 carries, including a 42-yard touchdown scamper.
“What he did coming out of the blocks was extremely impressive,” Pendergast said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. To do that is something very special.
“I think he’s a very gifted player. Watching him on tape, you can see that he’s very mobile, has a very, very good arm, and made excellent decisions against San Diego,” Pendergast added. “He’s a very dangerous quarterback.”
For Cornell, senior quarterback Mick Razzano must improve his play if the team is to score more than three points this time around. Razzano hit just 10 of his 27 attempts in his first collegiate start against the Bison, including a two-for-12 effort in the second half. However, Pendergast feels that Razzano’s struggles against a tough defense will benefit the Red over the course of the season.
“I think it’ll help Mick in the long run,” Pendergast said. “I just have reason to believe he’ll be fine.”
For an inexperienced Red team that finished just 2-5 in the Ivy League last season, it will paramount to start the conference schedule on a good note this time around.
“It’s critical. We have high goals for this team this year. To reach those goals, you’ve got to win this first game,” Archer said. “We’ve got to take it to Yale, and we’ve got to show Yale what we can do.”
Archived article by Alex Ip