October 18, 2002

Receiving Respect

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Coming into the 2002 season many followers of the football team had theirs eyes on senior receiver Keith Ferguson. After he claimed the records for most receiving yards gained by a freshman and sophomore in a game and in a season, Ferguson entered his final campaign third on the list of career receptions (132) and yards (1,717).

However, others are keeping track of Ferguson’s stats for him.

“Joe Splendorio [’01], as a matter of fact, e-mailed me the other day. He told me, ‘Stay away from my record,’ just joking, he said that,” Ferguson said.

Yet the 5-9 wideout is closing in on Splendorio’s record set just two years ago. With 2,024 career yards to date, Ferguson needs 313 more, or just over 50 yards per game, to capture the record. Helped by a 12-catch, 154-yard game at Harvard last week, he’s currently averaging 76.8 yards per game.

“He was getting unbelievable releases off the line, Keith was, so it made my job easier because he was getting open,” said senior quarterback Mick Razzano of Ferguson’s most recent game.

Helping Ferguson even further is the consistent solidification of the aerial attack. After establishing the running game early in the season, the offense has been increasing and improving upon the passing game’s role. Instrumental is Razzano’s growing familiarity in his first year as starter.

“We’re not up there in terms of the number of yards we were throwing for a year ago, but if you look at the first four weeks, you will see we are throwing the ball better and better every week,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.

A modest passing game — the Red has been averaging 151 passing yards per game — is unusual for the Red, whose bread and butter came in the air the last few years. With quarterback Ricky Rahne ’02 at the helm, who consistently threw for over 250 yards per start, the receivers accounted for the vast majority of offense.

Thus it comes as a surprise that the receiving corps, boasting the largest percentage of veterans at any of Cornell’s positions, has taken a smaller percentage of the stats this year.

“Coming in to the season our receiving corps was touted as the best group on the team: We’re the most talented, the most experienced, we were going to be showcased coming into the season,” Ferguson explained. “Earlier on we ran the ball more. Now we’re out there making plays, so there’s more confidence in giving us the ball, as long as [sophomore tailback Marcus] Blanks and [senior tailback Brian] Ulbricht get their hands on the ball as well.”

Although developing a balanced offense has been one of Pendergast’s goals in his tenure as head coach, he has been passing more often in the last few games. In return, the passing game has been more effective, which the coach believes is a result of confidence.

“I think that Mick has become more comfortable in the offense. I think that the receivers and the running backs are a big part of the pass game as well as the offensive line,” Pendergast said. “They are becoming more confident in what we’re doing in the pass game.”

As for Ferguson, he is just trying to add numbers to the team’s total offensive stats while leading the team down the field. He’ll leave the record-watching to those he’s about to pass.

“I just try to get as many stats as I can — more yards, more touchdowns. I’m not really thinking about the record,” he said.

“I always figured that I’d get it anyway so I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta get the record,’ because I wouldn’t be focusing on the right thing. I’m just dealing with the day-to-day stuff and trying to get a win.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel