October 30, 2003

Injuries, Execution Hamper Gridders at Midpoint

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Two months ago, when head coach Tim Pendergast sat down to discuss this season’s edition of the football team, he spoke in glowing terms of the depth of talent that the team features. He projected great successes for the season based on the high expectations of the players and the hard work they put in to prepare for the season.

Now, with six games played and only four remaining, Pendergast’s squad has been through its share of disappointments and setbacks. But the positive attitude that pervaded Schoellkopf Hall in August still exists.

“Obviously when you look at the record, everybody is going to say nothing has gone right. I don’t necessarily agree with that,” Pendergast said. “What has gone right is we have 97 players who come to work everyday. They try, they improve, they continue to try to get better in all phases, and it’s a credit to these players and it’s a credit to the coaches.”

However, for all the hard work that each player has put in, the results simply have not been there. After beating a tough Bucknell team in its opening week, the Red has failed to win a game since, falling to 1-5 on the season, including a league-worst 0-3 in conference play.

Pendergast attributes the team’s struggles to one simple explanation.

“In a nutshell, it’s execution errors,” he said. “I think overall, we’ve got to find ways to score more points than we have been.”

The Red has not scored more than 24 points in any game this season and has been held to under 10 points twice. The team has simply had tremendous difficulty in capitalizing on its scoring opportunities. Through last Saturday’s 21-7 loss to Brown, the Red has converted on only 38-of-99 third downs, and only four-of-22 fourth downs.

The Red’s impotency in these pressure situations was most apparent in the Oct. 11 loss to Harvard, in which the Red failed to get a first down on numerous chances late in the first half.

The most glaring offensive deficiency, though, has been the running game. The Red has gained 738 yards on the ground through six games, an average of just 123 per game. By comparison, Cornell’s opponents have averaged 237.67 yards per game.

“I think we have to try to reestablish the running game in particular. I don’t like to run the ball 23 times, or whatever we did last week,” said Pendergast. “We’ve got to run it more than that to be able to establish it.”

On the defensive end, Cornell has struggled in seemingly the worst of situations.

“The major execution errors have been the big plays. A big play here, a big play there, a 65-yard run one week, a 35-yard run off a broken play another week, dropped coverage, things along those lines,” Pendergast said. “I think if we were scoring enough points, it would take a lot of pressure off the defense. If you look at us right now, we’re third in the league in defense. We’re not first, but we’re third. I think that says something.”

Cornell has allowed its opponents to score 157 points through its six games, an average of just over 26 points per. In addition, opponents have gained a total of 2,219 yards on the Red over this time.

A big reason for the team’s struggles has been a rash of injuries, including several to key offensive players.

Senior quarterback Mick Razzano has missed the past two games due to a severely strained abdominal muscle. Junior tailback Marcus Blanks has missed time due to an ankle injury, as have his replacements, sophomores Josh Johnston and Andre Hardaway. Senior wide receiver Chad Nice was injured on the opening kickoff in the season’s first game and has not played since.

All of these injuries have put a even greater strain on an already banged up roster.

“It’s like every week, there’s a new guy added to the injury list this week. If you watch our sideline on game days, there’s about 20 guys injured down there,” said Pendergast. “That affects us in practice too. Instead of having a scout team that can help, eventually you have to combine, and have your good guys go against your good guys all day long, and they get worn down, so depth is a concern.”

On a more positive note, however, Pendergast has seen several other players step up to fill in for their injured teammates, filling their newly acquired roles more than adequately.

“I think Josh Johnston is doing a great job, I think [senior quarterback] D.J. Busch is doing a tremendous job. [Freshman wide receiver] Tony Jackson has done a tremendous job. A lot of these are due to injuries to other guys,” Pendergast said. “I’m pleased with those guys. I hate to pick out individuals. One guy doesn’t do it alone, it takes other people around him.”

Setbacks aside, though, the team is poised for a turnaround in fortunes as it enters the final stretch of the season.

“Our expectations are to win,” said Pendergast.

Archived article by Owen Bochner