In 2003, the football team’s defense was not exactly the most formidable unit in the Ivy League. Giving up an average of 30.4 points per game and a league-high 41 touchdowns, the Red finished the season last in the Ancient Eight in scoring defense. Furthermore, Cornell was rarely able to put much pressure on opposing offenses, recording only 12 sacks in 10 games — another league low.
Also in 2003, the squad’s ability to put up critical points on field goals was virtually nonexistent. In the oft-overlooked yet vitally important category, the Red made only four of 12 field goal attempts (a 33.3% efficiency rating) — good enough for second to last in league.
However, as Bob Dylan said, “Your old road is rapidly agin’; please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend your hand.” While the football team’s road may have been lonely last year, this is 2004 — and almost everything has changed.
“Our defense worked out beautifully [on Saturday],” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “At Bucknell, we were not really able to use our defense against their option offense. But, against Yale, our guys were able to play hard and stay aggressive.”
On Saturday, the Cornell defense held a powerful Yale offense — the Bulldogs averaged 35.4 points and 478 yards per game last season — to only one touchdown and 182 total yards.
More importantly, the Red suffocated Yale’s playmakers — vaunted tailback Robert Carr was held to a meager 46 yards rushing and senior quarterback Alvin Cowan threw for only 140 total yards (the lowest mark of his starting career). In 2003, Cowan never left a game with less than 200 passing yards.
“You have to know the strengths that an opposing offense has,” Knowles said. “We had to be able to pinpoint what they were going to do.”
In another severe departure from last season, the Red hunted down Cowan mercilessly Saturday, recording three sacks for a total of 25 lost yards. Senior cornerback Sean Nassoiy led the way with a sack for a nine-yard loss and six total tackles. Junior linebacker Patrick Potts’ effective blitzing technique also set Cowan and the Bulldogs back 10 yards with his first sack of the season. In addition, sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Lucas burst through the trenches for the first sack of his collegiate career.
Combined with the two recorded against Bucknell, the Red’s defense is on pace for 25 sacks this year.
“Coach Knowles’ defense is great,” said Lucas. “It’s all about increasing the pressure on quarterbacks. The scheme this year is very aggressive.”
Thus far, the Red’s field goal kicking game has also executed a complete turnaround from 2003. After hitting four out of four attempts and scoring 13 total points versus Yale, senior place-kicker Trevor MacMeekin was not only named Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week, but also the Sports Network’s National Special Teams Player of the Week. MacMeekin’s school-record breaking performance assured that the reinvigorated special teams unit received its second consecutive recognition from the Ivy League. Last week, senior whip Joel Sussman claimed the Ivy special teams honor.
“Hitting those field goals was obviously a confidence booster,” MacMeekin said. “I may be the one getting recognition, but I’m only the last part in the entire offensive operation. I’m very fortunate to get those kinds of opportunities during a game. [The awards] are really a credit to the whole team.”
With the arrival of Knowles in January, it was evident many changes would grip the team in 2004. And as the Red now prepares to travel to Maryland to take on Towson this weekend, the team hopes the theme of progressive change will continue.
“Everyday at practice we are working so hard,” Lucas said. “A big component to our improvement and success is confidence. [Knowles] is great at letting us know that we can do anything we want to do.”
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor