September 14, 2007

Football Opens 2007 Against Bucknell

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For the football team, watching the tape of each drive during last year’s Cornell-Bucknell game must be like watching the movie Titanic over and over again — seeing the promise of each drive, but in the back of their minds knowing it would just crash and burn at some point.
By the end of that game, the Red had racked up 436 yards of total offense, but dropped passes, penalties, a poor snap, two interceptions and a simple lack of execution would stymie the Cornell attack just as it got rolling. When all was said and done, the Red had only put a field goal and a safety on the board in the 20-5 loss.
“I think a lot of things happened that game,” said junior wide receiver Jesse Baker. “We had some turnovers, we had some young guys playing. That was my first time stepping on the field. It’s different this year with our attitude. We didn’t know who we were.”
While Cornell has matured since that game, so has Bucknell (1-1). The Bison’s tricky option attack was quarterbacked by a freshman in Marcello Trigg who showed his youth with four touchdowns and five picks, while completing only 42 pecent of his passes on the season.
But while Trigg has shown signs of improvement through the air this year, with twRed’s main focus will have to be on Trigg pitching the ball, or running it himself on the hesitation. The Bison have run the ball 58 and 53 times, respectively, in its first two games. The majority of the carries have gone to senior Corin Erby, sophomore Josh Lee and the dynamic sophomore A.J. Kizekai, who returns kicks and leads the team in catches while still placing third in carries. It was this stubbornness to keep running the ball that was the Achilles heel for the Red last year, even though football out-rushed the Bison with 18 fewer carries.
“We broke down and didn’t stick to our assignments,” said junior noseguard Frank Kunis. “We’re just going to do our assignment and tackling who we should tackle.”
Part of the reason the defenders were leaving their men was the general chaos the Bucknell option offense creates. With essentially six players notching more than 50 carries last season — and five with more than 10 carries through the first two games this year — it can be hard to pinpoint where the ball is going.
“If you break it down, it’s not that confusing,” Kunis said of the Bucknell offense. “At first it’s overwhelming, but once you get into it it’s not that bad. What the coaches are actually doing is during practice, the scout team might not even be using a ball. It’s just assignment football. So you’re not even making a play on the ball you’re just tackling your man.”
For the usually vaunted Red defense, it just has simply not been able to stamp out the Bucknell running attack. Over the last three years, Cornell has given up an average of 240 rushing yards per game to Bucknell, while only relinquishing 93.4 yards per game against every other opponent. Red defenders continue to preach the increased maturity and aggressiveness of this defense.
“The feeling of camp this year is so much more confident,” said junior defensive end Dario Arrezo. “We feel that as we all mature we just keep getting better.”
“This year our defenders are just a lot more mature,” Kunis said. “People are flying to the ball, hustling. This is one of the fastest, most physical defenses I’ve ever been a part of.”
Which is why Kunis believes that with a more aggressive defense where people just swarm to the ball each play, Bucknell is going to not be able to run the ball upwards of 50 times.
“I think we’ll physically wear them down,” he said. “We’re going to hit them every play. They’re not going to want to run the ball. … Especially if they get down late I think they’ll go to the pass.”
To Cornell’s advantage, though, Bucknell has not been the last bastion of good defense so far this season, especially defending the pass. It gave up 48 points to Stony Brook last week, including 257 yards and three scores through the air. The week before that, the Bison yielded 273 yards and two more passing tallies. Together, that’s five of the seven touchdowns opponents hung on Bucknell coming through the air. Last year, the Red tried to exploit the weak secondary, passing the ball 36 times, but junior Nathan Ford was picked off twice. Junior receiver Zac Canty thinks the Red’s solid offensive line will allow the Red to spread the field, though.
“They have struggled at time at defense,” he said. “Our coaches have shown us that through film. … We feel very good about our offensive line. Then we can spread [Bucknell’s defense] out.”
“It’s time for this offense to have a little coming out party,” Baker said.
Head coach Jim Knowles certainly plans to extend the field, repeatedly discussing his plans to spread four receivers out wide and utilize Ford’s throwing ability and the tight end, junior Anthony Spooner, in more than a blocking fashion.
“Nathan Ford is a throwing quarterback,” he said. “He’s going to make plays with his feet but he’s going to make more plays with his arm. … You’re going to see four wide receivers on the field, as least three; one tight end, three wideouts, four wideouts, sometimes empty sets with no backs. We’re going to spread the field as much as possible to create running lanes, but really to throw and utilize our strength.”o touchdowns and 156 yards through the air in the Bison’s first game — a 28-19 win over Duquesne — the