For the third straight year under head coach Jim Knowles ’87, the football team (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) is turning it on late in the season. In 2004, the Red finished the year on a three-game winning streak, and in 2005 it won three of its last four. This year, Cornell is riding a two-game win streak, heading into a road game this Saturday against Columbia (3-5, 0-5), the losers of four straight games.
However, the Red has struggled mightily on the road this season, as the team has yet to capture a win away from Schoellkopf Stadium. Columbia will give the Red its final opportunity as it finishes its season next week at home against Penn.
“When they told me, take the Cornell job, you’ll be coming home, I didn’t know that it was the only place I’d be able to win,” Knowles said.
The Lions’ offensive attack is statistically the worst in the Ivy League, scoring only 13.4 points per game. However, the team ranks fifth in passing offense, as the squad has proved very capable of moving the ball through the air. Junior quarterback Craig Hormann has completed 54.5 percent of his attempts for on average 192 yards per game.
“They have a quarterback who has a really strong arm — one of the strongest I’ve seen,” Knowles said. “He can throw it from one hash to the other sideline. They’re threatening all the time — they had 300 passing yards against Harvard. You’ve got to take them seriously.”
While the aerial attack was certainly clicking against Harvard, the same cannot be said for the Lions’ running game. Against the Crimson, Columbia was held to -14 yards rushing, as sophomore tailback Jordan Scott was held to just 12 yards on 13 attempts.
For the season, Columbia is last in the league in rushing yards at only 65.9 per contest.
Regardless, Cornell will certainly try to apply pressure with both its linebacking corps and its secondary. After moving away from the blitz early on in the season, the Red has picked it up of late and will be expected to bring heavy pressure on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a different mindset coming after them, instead of sitting back and waiting,” said senior tri-captain Jonathan Lucas. “It’s more of, take the game to the other team, so we’re excited about it.”
“Our team is once again buying into that philosophy,” Knowles said. “We just don’t do quite as well when we sit back. It’s safer, but I think we’re becoming more and more of a pressure team.”
The Columbia defense is the polar opposite of its offense, ranking first in the Ivy League, allowing only 16.0 points per game. While its rush defense ranks only sixth, its passing defense has been extremely stingy, ranking first and allowing only 153 yards per contest this season.
“They’re just a young team,” Knowles said. “They have a new coach and, like we did here, they’re emphasizing defense. They haven’t gotten the wins yet, but we have to make sure we play them with our level of energy and intensity, so that we can control the tempo of the game.”
“It’s always a little worrisome when a team’s back in a corner,” Lucas said. “Our plan is to just go after [them] and take it to them from the first play and don’t give them an inch of breathing room.”
With Columbia’s affinity for stopping the pass, junior tailback Luke Siwula will once again be expected to carry the load for the Red offense. Siwula was recently named to the first team Academic All-District for the second year in a row.
“We’ve got to try to keep them off-balance because that’s what they specialize in,” Knowles said. “They do a great job shifting from one thing to another to keep you from honing in on them. We have to keep them off-balance with some of the things we do on the perimeter with the option and the quarterback runs. That changes a lot for defenses because they have to account for that. We also need to utilize our no-huddle and our tempo to its full capacity. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The Red will also attempt to incorporate backup quarterback Stephen Liuzza into the offensive attack, as the freshman ran for 91 yards on just four carries a week ago against Dartmouth. His stat line included an 81-yard touchdown, the longest run in school history by a quarterback. For his efforts, Liuzza was named Ivy League co-Rookie of the Year.
“When you have two quarterbacks on the field, you can do a variety of things — you can throw [Liuizza] the ball on the perimeter, you can execute your trick plays, you can line him up at quarterback and put Nate out as a receiver,” Knowles said. “It gives our offense a lot of versatility.”
While both of these squads are out of the Ivy League championship race, there are certainly bragging rights on the line on Saturday.
“Our teams are a lot a like,” Knowles said. “They have good athletes. Particularly down there, we get a good Cornell atmosphere at those games. It’s the Ivy League New York state championship. It’s turned into a fun rivalry.”