October 3, 2003

Gridders Look to Bounce Back Against Colgate

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After a disappointing start to its Ivy season, the football team will look to rebound this weekend against one of its toughest rivals. After losing 21-7 at Yale last weekend, to drop its record at 1-1, the Red welcomes a surging Colgate team to Schoellkopf tomorrow at 1 p.m.

“It’s a big rivalry, I think we all want to turn this one around,” said junior defensive back Kyle Thomas. “Hopefully we’ve got a good shot. I think we’re all ready this year.”

The Red has shown significant signs of improvement during the young season and will look to piece together a more complete game against the Raiders (4-0, 2-0 Patriot League). Last week, Cornell remained in the game against a tough Yale squad until late in the fourth quarter. Most significantly, the Red defense was able to limit the Elis to a single touchdown going into halftime. However, for the first time in a long time, it was the Red’s offense that let down the defense — rather than vice versa — eventually dropping the game to the more opportunistic Yale team.

Many of Cornell’s largest contributions have come from unexpected sources, a trend which the Red has begun to revel. Sophomore Josh Johnston has emerged as the offense’s primary weapon, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and leading the Red with 246 all-purpose yards.

Meanwhile, the Red defense has stymied the high-powered Yale and Bucknell offenses, surprising many skeptics around the league. In fact, Cornell’s pass defense is currently ranked first in the nation, allowing just 104 yards in the air per game. While this could partially be attributed to Yale and Bucknell’s rush-intensive offenses, it still speaks volumes about how far the Red has come since last season. Last year, Cornell finished 109th in pass defense, giving up over 230 pass yards a game.

Unfortunately for the Red, if it hopes to overcome the still unvanquished Colgate team it will face tomorrow, more contributions will have to be made on each side of the ball.

Colgate enters the game on a 10-game winning streak and hasn’t seen a true test yet in 2003. The 10-game streak is the second longest in school history and the second longest current streak in Division 1-AA. This is also the first time since 1983 that the Raiders have sprung out to a 4-0 start.

Colgate’s victims have included Division I-A Buffalo (38-15), Ivy foe Dartmouth (31-9) and most recently Towson (26-7) last Saturday. The Raiders are hungry to continue their dominance and create some history for itself in 2003.

While going undefeated thus far, Colgate also holds a historical advantage over the Red since it has won each of their last seven meetings, dating back to 1993.

Colgate is led on offense by leading rusher Jamaal Branch, who is averaging 140.25 yards per game on the ground. Branch, who ranks fourth in the nation with his ypg mark, is also a scoring machine. The junior’s 10.5 points per game is fifth best in Division I-AA.

Overall, Colgate’s run offense ranks ninth in the nation, while its combined total offense — led by junior quarterback Chris Brown — is currently holding the No. 15 slot.

Arguably scarier than the Raiders offensive capabilities are the things the Raiders have been able to do on the other side of the ball. Colgate is ranked third in the nation in total defense (230 yards per game) and allows just 85 of those yards on the ground.

“They blitz a lot, they play a lot of three-three zone blitz,” said senior quarterback Mick Razzano. “We’re expecting a lot of pressure, just like we do with everybody else.”

Colgate also boasts three players with 20-plus tackles, led by senior inside linebacker Ryan Disch’s 35. Disch’s classmate and inside linebacking partner Tem Lukaba is second on the team with 28 total takedowns.

Cornell will likely rely on its pass game to go over the Raider defense, while continuing to work its run game up the middle behind the much-talked about Cornell offensive line.

“To throw the ball well we have to run the ball, and if we’re not running the ball well, we’re not going to be able to throw it,” said Razzano. “They both go hand in hand.”

Coming back from a tough loss is one of the hardest situations any team can face and Pendergast’s team knows it has a tough task ahead of itself.

“They’re 4-0 — they’ve won their last 10 games,” said Razzano. “What they have been doing has been working, but I think we can exploit some of their weaknesses.”

If the Red hopes to continue its improvement from last season, it will have to learn how to come off a loss and play its best football just a week later. Tomorrow will go a long way in showing just how capable Cornell is to overcoming just such a challenge.

Archived article by Scott Jones

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