While the Cornell football team (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) has made noticeable strides over the past couple of years since head coach Jim Knowles ’87 took the reigns of the once-beleaguered program, the Red has yet to figure out how to win away from Schoellkopf Field.
Facing Princeton (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) on the road this Saturday, Knowles and his staff have been trying to find solutions big and small to figure out how to solve the team’s woes away from home. This week’s possible cure – bigger sandwiches for the trip to Princeton.
“We get [the players] Shortstop [Deli] for the bus,” Knowles said. “[But this week], instead of a double, we’re going to get them a Grand Slam [sandwich].”
Meals aside, in his second season with the Red, Knowles has made Schoellkopf Field a fortress for opposing teams to play in. Despite the team’s 38-24 home setback last weekend against Brown, Cornell is 6-3 at home since Knowles’ arrival.
But, besides a dramatic 32-26 comeback at Columbia last season, the Red over the past two years is 1-6 on the road. Since the Red now has two league losses after its defeat to the Bears last weekend, winning out the rest of the season is crucial if Cornell wants to have any legitimate chance of winning the Ivy championship. The task is made tougher since three of the squad’s remaining four games are away.
“We have to play with a free-wheeling spirit and intensity on the road and can’t be uptight,” Knowles said. “It just seems we play uptight on the road and our mistakes have been magnified. The league’s pretty balanced, anything can happen and we need to be in the game in the fourth quarter, which means when you go on the road and a bad play happens, you’ve got to put it behind you and move on.”
According to players, along with the traveling time, much of the difficulty of playing away from home is the change of atmosphere, especially for those who have not been to other teams’ venues.
“It’s difficult to go to a place – especially for the young guys – they’ve never been to before,” said senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn. “That’s one of the biggest things [to adjust to] – going to surroundings that you’re not familiar with.”
Kuhn said that it is easy to get distracted on the road and to combat this, the team has to stay focused and prepare the same way as it would for a home game.
“You don’t have the comfort of your own bed, you don’t have the comfort of the same pre-game meal, you have some different things that can really draw you away from what you really need to focus on,” said senior safety Kevin Rex.
Measures taken to accomplish this consistency between games include having meetings at similar times as it would at home, getting familiar with the opposing team’s facilities the day before the game, and generating the same type of enthusiasm which it would have if the team played at Schoellkopf.
“I think that especially once we get to our destination, we need to make their home our home,” Rex said. “There’s no reason that we can’t just take over their stadium and have the same energy and the same feeling like we do at Schoellkopf. Obviously, we don’t have the same number of fans, but from a sideline standpoint, we just [need to] have our team focus as we would for a home game.”
While Rex said that he is not sure why the Red have had recent difficulty playing away from home, he acknowledged that the key ingredients for Cornell to win include stopping big plays, limiting turnovers, and getting off to a quick start.
A third Ivy loss would almost certainly destroy the Red’s goal of a league title and although there may not be a happy ending in 2005, Knowles said the seniors, who will play the main role in determining the outcome of the rest of the year, have plenty to play for.
“This is their season,” Knowles said. “They’ve faced some really tough times here. I’m still going to be here and the underclassmen are still going to be here [after the season ends], but for our seniors, these four games are critical … what a great feather in the cap it will be when they do well in these last four games and all of a sudden, they have a successful senior year no matter what happens with the championship.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor