September 21, 2005

Defense Continues Last Season's Form

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In the football team’s 24-7 rout of Bucknell, the offense stole the show, as it gained 293 yards on the ground. Yet, the defense made an impressive showing as well, as it held the Bison’s spread-option attack at bay all game long, yielding only 2.9 yards per carry in the win.

Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87 believes that the Bison’s lack of balance allowed his defense to focus on an area which is one of its strengths and essentially play a base defense for most of the game.

“When you’re playing an option team, or one that runs the ball exclusively, there’s not so much you can do and there’s not so much that you need to do,” he said.

The solid defensive work against the run-oriented Bucknell offense came as no surprise to those who follow Cornell football, as the defense held its opponents to the same 2.9 yards per carry average and just a shade over 100 yards per game a season ago.

The defense also showed its ability to remain mentally focused in the second half despite the lopsided 24-0 lead it held going into the locker room. A 28-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, which was the Bison’s longest gain from scrimmage in the entire game, was the only thing standing between the Red and a shutout as the buzzer sounded at the end of the contest.

Also, although Bucknell held a 3:20 edge in time of possession, the Cornell defense did not allow the Bison to get into a rhythm offensively, as Bucknell was able to sustain a drive of nine plays or more just three times in the game. Fortunately for the Red, the Bison was only able to score seven points off of those drives.

This Saturday at Yale, though, the Red will see a more balanced offensive attack, as the Bulldogs had the same amount of rushing and passing attempts (32) in their season-opening 17-14 loss at San Diego. Yet, when Yale did run the ball, it did so effectively, led by rookie tailback Mike McLeod, who rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown.

According to Knowles, defending against the run and the pass will prove to be a more difficult task than simply focusing on a single dimension, which is what the defense was able to do against Bucknell. On the flip side, Knowles noted that the more balanced attack will allow the Red to add some new wrinkles to its defensive playbook.

“It’ll be more challenging to face a team that does both at the same time,” Knowles said. “But it opens up our defense because it gives us a lot more options.”

Most of those options for Knowles and company will most likely be the blitzing schemes that the Red defense utilized last year when it was able to tally 23 sacks. The hope on the Cornell side is that the emphasis on the blitz will also allow the Red to force more turnovers, as defenders rushing from all angles will constantly keep the opposition’s quarterback under pressure.

On Saturday, Cornell will try to keep the heat on Yale quarterback Jeff Mroz, who threw two interceptions against San Diego, and hopes that he will be susceptible to turning the ball over.

Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Sports Editor