Reinventing oneself is always a dangerous proposition which can be as successful as Van Halen or as ineffective as Michael Jackson. For the football team, Saturday night’s unveiling of a new offense was a successful reinvention, as Cornell used solid play all-around to beat Bucknell, 38-14.
“I really couldn’t picture a better start across the board,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “We just want to go into every game playing as hard as we possibly can with great excitement and enthusiasm and look at the scoreboard at the end of the game. We showed the team a video that talked about how water is hot at 211 degrees but it boils at 212 degrees. We really need that one extra degree to get this baby boiling and it showed up tonight.”
After being more of a running team last season, Cornell’s offense utilized a litany of short passes and multi-wide-receiver sets and spread the ball around to 12 different receivers. Junior quarterback Nathan Ford completed a career-high 31 passes for a career-high 288 yards. Ford also picked up two rushing touchdowns on the day.
“We wanted to unveil an offense that was exciting that would keep the fans coming back,” Knowles said. “I think we have the weapons to really do whatever we decide we’re going to do.”
Sophomore Stephen Liuzza was the primary beneficiary of the new aerial attack, as he caught seven passes for 84 yards, mostly on screen passes. Junior tight end Alex Spooner also had a big day, catching a career-high five balls and amassing 43 receiving yards.
“It’s basically an offense where you get the ball in the playmakers’ hands, and we have so many on the field,” Ford said. “It makes my job a lot easier. It’s fun to watch.”
Senior Luke Siwula paced the running game for Cornell, gaining 84 yards on 21 carries. The halfback was also able to convert goal line situations into scores, as he ran for a career-high three touchdowns on runs of one, two and three yards. Siwula passed 2,000 yards for his career and now stands 90 yards away from moving into fifth place on the school’s all-time rushing list.
“Those three touchdowns, I was really set up by my teammates there, who unfortunately got stopped short at the one-yard line,” Siwula said. “They gave me some layups, which was nice, but they have the confidence in me to get it in the endzone on the one-yard line.”
The new-look offense dominated in most offensive categories, as Cornell held a 29-15 first-down advantage and a 453-240 edge in total yards. The Red also ran 89 plays as opposed to the Bisons’ 64.
On the other side of the ball, Cornell was able to keep Bucknell’s spread option offense in check. Bisons sophomore quarterback Marcello Trigg, a threat on the ground, was held to only 55 yards rushing and 53 yards passing. Sophomore A.J. Kizekai also notched 50 yards on the ground on nine carries for Bucknell. The Bisons only scored on one of their first 12 possessions before backup quarterback Terrance Wilson completed a touchdown to sophomore Josh Lee at the end of the fourth quarter against the Red’s backups.
“[Bucknell] is a difficult offense to defend,” Knowles said. “They might have made some yards on us, but we kept them out of the endzone.”
Cornell junior Tim Bax led the squad in tackles, notching seven solo and two assisted stops. Bax also forced a fumble and broke up a pass. Graham Rihn also had a solid game, as the junior recorded a sack and forced two fumbles. Sophomore Chris Costello also forced a fumble.
“We have been scheming for Bucknell for two weeks and we were really prepared,” said junior Gus Krimm. “We have a lot of experience on defense and we were definitely real comfortable out there with the game-plan and the game speed.”
Cornell was able to dictate the pace of the game early in the first quarter, as well as putting up some early points. The Red scored points on its first three offensive touchdowns, recording two touchdowns and a field goal. Similarly, Cornell’s defense stopped Bucknell on the Bisons’ first two drives to take the early edge.
Making matters more difficult, Cornell was the last team in Division I to play its first game of the season. Bucknell, on the other hand, had already played two games. The Red had previously been anxious to get onto the field and begin its season.
“You wait so long to play a football game, being the last one in the entire country,” Knowles said. “Hopefully you see a lot of pent-up energy.”
The win was a measure of retribution, as Bucknell beat Cornell, 20-5, in the season opener last year. In that game, the Red lost despite out-gaining the Bisons 436-331.
“That’s something that sticks in the back of your mind every year, who your losses were last year,” Siwula said. “They were basically the same team they were last year as well, so we wanted to show how much confidence and how much we believed we’ve improved as an entire team and capable of getting the job done. The ones you lose are definitely the ones that stick out and the ones you want to get back.”