September 29, 2006

Red Poised to Take On No. 23 Albany

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As the football team prepares to face Albany tomorrow night on Schoellkpf Field, the Red is hoping that the third time’s the charm.

In the first two games of the season, sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford and the Cornell offense have had absolutely no trouble moving the ball. Against Bucknell and Yale, the Red has compiled 821 total yards, including over 200 yards rushing in each game. In fact, Cornell’s average of 410.5 yards per game ranks eighth in all of Division I-AA. However, despite its ability to move the ball up and down the field at will, the Red has only managed to score 14 points all season, a 7-point average which is statistically fourth-worst in the nation.

“It’s the craziest thing in the world,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “I’ve never seen that before. You’ve got to believe the points are going to come. You can’t lose your head. You can’t flinch in the face of adversity. You just got to stick with the system and believe it’s going to happen.”

Cornell’s offensive woes can be easily explained by its six turnovers in the first two weeks of play, including three interceptions thrown by Ford. If the Red is to bounce back from its 0-2 start, including a 0-1 mark in the Ivy League, it will need to take better care of the ball, starting tomorrow when it hosts Albany (3-1) in the first night football game ever held at Schoellkopf Field.

“We’re making some crucial mistakes on offense at the wrong times,” Knowles said. “But, we’re moving the football. Everyone believes in the system. The players aren’t down. It’s tough when you have young guys and you have no preseason games and boom, you’re into it. I’m not making excuses, I just know it’s going to get better.”

Albany head coach BobFord does not expect Cornell to continue to gift-wrap opportunities.

“You can’t beat yourself,” Ford said. “You’ve got to force the other team to beat you. Cornell has contributed to Bucknell winning and Yale winning. I don’t think they’re going to continue to give the world away. They are going to come out and play very hard and try not to give the ball away.”

Albany enters the first-ever contest between the two schools ranked No. 23 in the nation, occupying a spot in the Sports Network and College Sporting News polls for the first time in program history. The Great Danes defeated No. 23 Central Connecticut State, 19-14, last Saturday, and knocked off No. 11 Delaware the week before.

“[The game against Delaware] was the greatest win we’ve had at the university,” Ford said.

The Great Danes are led by their stellar defensive unit, which has allowed only 12.2 points per game this season. The opposition has compiled only 984 yards of total offense in four games, averaging only 3.5 yards per play.

“Albany makes their living on defense,” Knowles said. “It’s almost like it’s going to be our defense against their defense and I’m predicting a game that’s going to be tight.”

Albany has allowed, on average, less than 100 rushing yards per game, despite giving up 185 yards on the ground last Saturday against Central Connecticut. The Red’s offensive line will have its work cut out for it in trying to open up holes for junior tailback Luke Siwula, who should once again be a focal point of Cornell’s offensive attack. Sophomore Shane Kilcoyne has contributed to the running game as well, as he and Ford both average above 50 yards per game on the ground.

If the Red is unable to establish the running game, the pressure will fall squarely on the shoulders of Ford, who has, for the most part, played well in his first season as a starter.

“To me, he is everything that we expected,” Knowles said. “He’s been a great leader. He executes the system. He gets the right plays called. He makes the right read in our running game. And 90 percent of the time he makes the right reads in our passing game. He’s not the most polished passer right now. But he’s a very good, talented, smart quarterback who’s a sophomore, and is just going to get better and better every game.”

Albany’s head coach likes him for another reason.

“I love his last name,” Ford said. “Other than that, I think he’s a gutsy young performer. He makes mistakes that young kids make sometimes.”

On offense, the Great Danes are led by tailback Marcus Allen, who has compiled 243 yards on the ground so far this season. Allen runs behind a massive offensive line, a potential challenge for an undersized Cornell defensive front when the two squads meet.

“They’re really big up front,” Knowles said. “They’re a run-first team. We’re a run-first defense. I think that we need to prevent the big play. We need to make them try to go the long haul. Our defense has shown to be successful if we don’t give up the big play.”

The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow night. It is the second night game of the season for the Red, while the Great Danes enter its third twilight affair of the season. It seems to make no difference to either head coach.

“If they want to play at 10 in the parking lot, we’ll do it,” Ford said