September 30, 2002

Defensive Breakdown Opened Holes for Elis

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Two weekends ago at Bucknell the Cornell football team held a very talented Bison running game to 116 total rushing yards. Just a week later, the Red witnessed a defensive breakdown to the tune of 415 Yale rushing yards, including a school-best 235-yard effort from sophomore Robert Carr.

So what happened on Saturday?

“We just didn’t come to play,” said a confused Nate Spitler, captain and anchor of Cornell’s defense.

The letdown began early as Carr broke open a 29-yard scamper on Yale’s first play from scrimmage. As the Red scrambled to tighten its forces at the line, the Bulldogs continued their march down the field. Carr took five carries, 65 yards in just over a minute to equalize the game and transfer the early momentum to his team. Carr finished the first quarter with 114 rushing yards, just two short of Bucknell’s game total the week prior.

“They pushed us around [early] and then it was as though we just lost it altogether,” said head coach Tim Pendergast of his defense.

Most of Yale’s success on the ground can be credited to Bulldogs’ head coach Jack Siedlecki’s game plan. Siedlecki out-strategized the Red’s stringent eight-man front by running a number of plays to spread the Cornell defense. Screen patterns, options, and dump offs to the flankers exposed the Red’s defensive line all game long.

“As soon as the safety and outside linebacker got conscious of [the outside patterns and rushes], we found we could run the ball inside,” said Siedlecki, adding, “you have to have enough plays in the game plan to adjust to [the four-four front].”

Yale’s ability to stretch the Red defense created many open field opportunities for the talented corp of Bulldog running backs. Many plays came down to a one-on-one situation in the Cornell secondary. Unfortunately for Cornell, the last line of defense for the Red was uncharacteristically flawed throughout the game, with the one-on-one match-ups usually falling in favor of the Yale rushers.

“I saw a lot of our guys taking bad angles and miss them and taking good angles and miss them, just miss them,” said Pendergast of the many missed tackles that marred the Red’s day.

Yale’s team speed was a concern heading into the game for Pendergast’s staff and became a huge factor in Saturday’s loss. Carr, along with back-ups junior Pat Bydume — who ran for 125 yards of his own — and freshman David Knox were able to out-sprint a frustrated and tired Cornell team time and again for huge gains and first downs.

While the Yale running backs were certainly a huge reason for the team’s record-breaking performance, some credit must go to the talented and massive offensive line of the Elis. Not only was the veteran group able to win the battle of the trenches, but it was also able to penetrate into the Red’s second line of defense.

“Our offensive line dominated today. They were getting body-on-body in the first level and then getting us to the second and third level…” said Carr. “It was easy to read, they were doing a great job blocking, and it was great for me.”

The multi-faceted meltdown Cornell experienced on Saturday will act as a challenge to a Red squad that has not yet found itself. Throughout the defensive line-up lie problems with inexperience, injuries, and possibly even a lack of focus. When questioned as to one specific thing to which he could credit his team’s poor performance, Pendergast gave a befuddled answer that was characteristic of the Red’s post-game attitude on Saturday.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to look at the tape,” said Pendergast.

With much preparation in store, the another test will come next week as Cornell looks to regroup in front of a home crowd against a tough Towson team.

Archived article by Kristen Jones