October 11, 2006

Slow Start Dooms Cornell Against Harvard

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — It was a day that was doomed from the start for the Cornell offense, as Harvard first team All-Ivy running back Clifton Dawson took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to put the Red down 7-0 before the game’s first actual play from scrimmage.

After scoring a touchdown to even the game on the Red’s opening drive, Cornell struggled to gain momentum after the Harvard defense adjusted to the Red’s game plan, which consisted of stretching the field early in order to set up Cornell’s run game.

The only problem was that after No. 18 Harvard adjusted to the pass, there was little reason and little room for sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford and junior first team All-Ivy tailback Luke Siwula to run.

“Harvard obviously has a great run defense,” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “They’re very strong and very fast up front, so we felt we had to loosen them up with the pass early. When they caught up to our passing game, they just didn’t give us many options. We were having trouble running and all the routes were covered.”

After the game, the stat sheet uncovered something that was unconventional for a Cornell team under Knowles’ tenure. After literally running over Albany at Schoellkopf Field two weekends ago, Cornell ran the ball 41 times for only 67 yards — well below its season average of 227 yards per game coming into the contest, but still slightly better Harvard’s 33 yards rushing allowed per game. Although Ford did throw for over 300 yards for only the 18th time in school history, the team’s offensive line allowed seven sacks on the day after allowing only one in the team’s first three games.

Harvard defensive end Brad Bagdis led the attack on the Red pocket, ending up with three sacks on the day to go with his eight tackles. Bagdis credited the defensive backs for his line’s success getting to Ford, showing why the Crimson defense is ranked first in the country in sacks per game (5.75).

“The secondary was just giving us the time we needed,” Bagdis said. “When you make the quarterback leave the pocket, odds are that things will go our way. Everything just seemed to work out today.”

According to Harvard head coach Tim Murphy, the Cornell offense didn’t exactly surprise the Crimson in its attempt to pass early and often. It was just a matter of time until the Crimson’s defensive line figured out how to swim and break through the Red’s senior-laden offensive front.

“Our coaches and defensive staff do a great job in general,” Murphy said. “We have a similar offense to Cornell so we see a lot of what they do every day in practice. We have a great set of athletes up front and we were just fortunate enough today to have our guys show up and dictate the tempo at the line of scrimmage. When you get other teams into passing situations and you turn those guys loose, we’re confident that good things are going to happen.”

Although the offensive line might have had a down game this past Saturday, there is still confidence that it will rebound and lead the Red in its quest to defeat Colgate this weekend at home.

“The line is still the heart and soul of our team,” Ford said. “We still expect them to show up the next six or seven games and dominate. Everyone’s still looking forward to seeing how they do.”