With all of the hype and expectations surrounding the upcoming Cornell football season, Saturday’s scrimmage at Ithaca College’s Butterfield Stadium suddenly became a must-see preview. But instead of gaining bragging rights over its cross-town rival, the Red’s play on the field was more or less average.
“I’m not jumping for joy, but I’m not crying in my hat either,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “I just think there’s a lot more work to be done. The guys have high expectations this year and we as coaches have got to push them.”
[img_assist|nid=17971|title=Coming through|desc=Sophomore Jamie Germani (46) moves through the Ithaca College defense during a scrimmage on Saturday. Germani finished the day with 25 yards on four carries. (Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor)|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=77]
The teams played two 15-minute halves during the scrimmage, as well as just under two hours of situational play both before and after the game.
The workout certainly provided the Red coaching staff with an all-important first glimpse of the team and some exposure for the younger players. However, due to the date of the game — one week earlier than last year — it may not be a good predictor of Cornell’s play three weeks from now in its season opener against Bucknell.
“It’s the earliest we’ve ever had a scrimmage,” Knowles said. “I really have to get back and see the film, just to see how we’re doing on the basics and the effort and our conditioning. It’s really an early evaluation, so it’s hard to tell right now.”
Despite Cornell’s rusty appearance, the Red and the Bombers were very evenly matched, as the consistently solid Cornell defense allowed only one touchdown during the timed scrimmage — a drive that included a 43-yard pass aided by a Red miscue. The offense, on the other hand, was only able to muster only one field goal on its first drive of the second half.
“Defensively, I thought we were fine,” Knowles said. “I thought that we basically held them scoreless, minus a missed tackle. I think defensively we were real strong. We are still seeing a little bit of that defensive system being ahead of the offensive system.”
After receiving a facelift for the second year in a row, that offensive system has a lot of work to do in the final weeks of training camp. Saturday’s scrimmage was just one of the growing pains that goes along with a revised playbook and a young quarterback.
Sophomore Nathan Ford will look to take over for Ryan Kuhn ’06 as the leader of the unit, immediately changing the offensive gameplan. Unlike Kuhn, who was a run-first signal caller, Ford allows Knowles and offensive coordinator Clayton Carlin to open up the field and attack opposing defenses. However, as is the case with an inexperienced quarterback, improvements will be gradual and over time.
On Saturday, Ford was 6-of-10 for 50 yards, as he was given an opportunity to air it out during the early stages of the scrimmage. This included a number of new looks for Cornell, including an effort to move the pocket in pass protection.
“We’re not going to be as much a quarterback-run team this year as we were with Ryan [Kuhn], but we still want to be move the pocket and keep [Ford] on the roll,” Knowles said. “So that’s something brand new for us, we’ve never shown that. … We think we’ll have a good running game coming off of last year. We are trying to see how far we can ramp up the passing game because we just feel like we need it.”
In his only appearance before the season begins, Ford displayed all of his physical tools, but looked unpolished in his execution.
“I think Nate’s accurate and he’s got a good strong arm,” Knowles said. “I think he can make all of the throws on the field, whether it’s verticals or out-cuts. But he’s still a sophomore, so I think he can get better with his decisions — when to throw the ball away, when to run out of bounds. He’s going to have to really ramp up the speed because we got a game in a couple weeks.”
One of Ford’s better moments of the afternoon was in Cornell’s first possession of the second half, when he marched the team 62 yards on 12 plays, eating up 5:10 of the game clock. The drive resulted in a field goal by junior Peter Zell.
Senior tight end Stu Homan led the receiving corps, hauling in three catches for 35 yards. The rushing attack featured five different players, after star junior tailback Luke Siwula limped off with an ankle injury. Knowles said later that the injury was not serious.
Sophomore Jamie Germani carried the ball four times for 25 yards and freshman Matt Kenney matched his rushing total on six attempts. At quarterback, Ford was followed by freshmen Stephen Liuzza and Ben Ganter and sophomore Tyler Lucas.
“I think the young class showed up well in the skill positions,” Knowles said. “Our offense has to do a much better job of protecting the football … Being this early in camp our offense is a little bit behind. We need our veterans to really pick it up, particularly on the offensive line and then the receiver position. Really on offense I’d like to see things get better.”