After last weekend’s road win at Dartmouth, the football team will return to Schoellkopf Field tomorrow to finish its home schedule against Columbia. The Red (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) has posted an impressive 3-1 record on its home turf this year, with the only defeat coming at the hands of league leader Brown. While the game will have no championship implications, it will give Cornell’s seniors an opportunity to finish their Schoellkopf careers on a positive note.
“Having our seniors leave the field victorious the last time they play here – that’s a big deal,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “That doesn’t happen very often because you are coming down to the end of the season and those games get more and more competitive. There are really a lot of things that can be accomplished with this game. Be one game better than last year, guaranteed. That’s again something we have talked about with the seniors – a chance for them to leave a legacy.”
With a victory over the Lions, the Red will capture its fourth home win of the season for the first time since 1999. However, in order to do so, it can’t afford to take Columbia (2-6, 0-5) lightly. Even though the Lions have yet to capture a conference victory, the Red needed an improbable comeback to edge past them last season on the road. Down 26-7 with only 9:33 to play, Cornell battled back for a 32-26 victory behind two fourth quarter touchdowns by quarterback D.J. Busch ’05.
After jumping out to a 2-0 record to start the season with wins over Fordham and Duquesne, the Lions have dropped six in a row, including last week’s 55-7 home pounding by Harvard. In five Ivy contests this season, Columbia has been outscored by a combined 196-35, as the Lions rank statistically as the worst scoring offense and defense in the conference.
“[Columbia] is a team that we certainly shouldn’t be mismatched with in any way,” Knowles said. “If we play our best and we have a tornado that rolls into Schoellkopf from the time we leave the Statler, we spin our way up here and we go in there with great excitement and enthusiasm – we’ll win the ballgame. It’s really in our control. If we don’t do things the way we are supposed to then we’ll struggle. But right now, our guys feel that they have the energy in their hand and its a chance for them to show how far the program has come.”
Despite Cornell’s obvious advantage in personnel, the Lions have beaten the Red in the last two meeting at Schoellkopf Field. In fact, the home team in this rivalry has not won a game since 1999 – ironically the last time the Red has won four home games in a season.
On offense, Cornell will look to control the time of possession by leaning on its potent rushing attack. The Red ranks first in the league with 241.4 yards per game on the ground behind sophomore tailback Luke Siwula and senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn. Siwula is third in the Ivies with 885 yards rushing and is on pace to become only the sixth back in school history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in a season – Ed Marinaro ’72 and Chad Levitt ’97 both achieved this milestone on three separate occasions.
Despite the overwhelming success of the running game, Knowles will continue to expand the passing attack to create a more balanced offensive unit.
“I think our running game has to hit upon its averages [against Columbia],” Knowles said. “And I would hope for some more big plays in the passing game. I think there will be some opportunities for us to go deeper a little more. … [We need to] keep striving and working for balance. But we are front-loaded with the run right now.”
As for the Red defense, the Lions are dead last in rushing with only 48.1 yards per game and should be more of a challenge on the Cornell secondary than anything else. The Columbia passing attack has averaged just under 200 yards per contest, led by the emergence of sophomore quarterback Craig Hormann. Due the the Lions’ inexperience at several key offensive positions, Knowles will look to be extremely aggressive with his blitzing schemes.
“We got into that [blitzing] mindset last week because we thought we had some matchups that were in our favor in terms of their protection versus our blitz,” Knowles said. “I know Columbia is starting a couple of young guys on the offensive line and [we] really need to mix them up to keep them off-balanced.”
The time of the game is scheduled for 1:00 tomorrow, with the weather expected to be mostly sunny in the low 50s.
Archived article by Bryan Pepper
Sun Assistant Sports Editor