October 18, 2006

Football Looks for Improvement in Away Contests

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With last week’s victory over Colgate, the Cornell football team improved to 2-1 at home this season — well on its way to its third winning campaign at Schoellkopf Field under head coach Jim Knowles ’87. Since 2004, the Red has posted a 9-4 record in Ithaca, including a 4-1 mark a year ago.

“We love Schoellkopf. We talk about it all the time. We use it as motivation for our players,” Knowles said. “We march up the team from the Statler. We have alumni at pre-game meals with us. The uniqueness of the stadium, the students, and the fans — we totally sell it. We have our players believe that it’s going be a hard task to beat us at Schoellkopf.”

However, the road has not been nearly as welcoming, as the Red will need wins over Brown on Saturday and Columbia in mid-November to secure just a .500 record away from home. Last season, Cornell began its road schedule at 0-3 before earning victories over Dartmouth and Penn at the end of the season.

“We couldn’t [win on the road] at all the first year,” Knowles said. “And last year we grew it to the point we did it at the end of the season. It just reflects the growth of the program. It’s a step we certainly need to take.”

[img_assist|nid=19010|title=Take it away|desc=Sophomore defensive lineman Graham Rihn (96) runs with the ball during the Red’s 38-14 defeat of Colgate at Schoellkopf, in last Saturday’s Homecoming game.|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=81]
Over the past two plus seasons, Cornell has a 3-9 record away from Schoellkopf, with all three wins coming against Ivy League foes. With a 0-2 conference mark entering this weekend, the Red is in desperate need of a victory over Brown on Saturday to climb back into the race for the league championship.

However, it will have to do so under adverse conditions. The game will not only be held in Providence, R.I., but Cornell has never beaten the Bears under Knowles, the only remaining Ivy League team he has yet to master. In addition, the Red should expect an above-average crowd at Bear Stadium, making it even more difficult to conquer their road woes.

“Brown’s a team that won the championship last year. They’re struggling to find an identity this year,” Knowles said. “It’s their Homecoming and we’re going to get their best. They have their backs against the wall, so we have to prepare for their best.”

However, one question remains: why the Red has had such difficulty winning on the road. Knowles has his own explanation.

“It’s maturity. It’s the same battles we fought early with the Red Zone; the same issues that we faced defensively giving up things we shouldn’t; the same issues that we faced on special teams. Winning on the road is a maturity thing,” Knowles said.

It also doesn’t help when the squad routinely falls behind early and is forced to play catch-up throughout the game. In its road losses against Bucknell and Harvard this season, Cornell has been outscored by a combined 40-13 in the first half.

“You want to get off to a good start on the road,” Knowles said. “At Bucknell we fumbled the opening kickoff. At Harvard, we gave up the opening kickoff for a touchdown. You want to get off to a good start. It gives your team a little confidence.”

In its two victories in 2006 against Albany and Colgate, the Red has won the first quarter by 24-0 margin, including a combined 40-15 advantage at halftime.

“We play better when we get off to a quick start,” Knowles said. “We can take more chances on defense because you know you have a little cushion. And you can get the ball into Luke’s hands because you’re not pressing on offense. We play better that way and I hope our players learn from it and repeat it.”

The Red will have another opportunity on Saturday to correct is past mistakes. “It’s like my golf game. I’m not very good,” Knowles said. “I can play great at Cornell, but I go anywhere else and I stink. I’ll never be a good golfer, but our program is getting better.”