September 28, 2007

Back to Basics: Football Readies for Georgetown

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With the way the football team is talking, it’s almost like it wants to go back to leather helmets, seven-man lines and just play some smashmouth football against Georgetown this weekend.
“Let’s not reinvent the wheel here,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87, in reference to the Red’s running game.
“We’re going to try and do what we do best and not get too fancy, not try to get too cute and do what our gameplan originally is,” said sophomore receiver Stephen Liuzza about the team’s passing attack.
“We really have just gotten back to our fundamentals, working on a lot of the basic things,” echoed junior linebacker Ryan Blessing when asked about the squad’s defense.
While each person was talking about a different subject, the theme remained the same — back to basics. The driving force that pushed the Red (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) to this rhetoric was a 51-12 loss at Yale.
“If your pride’s not hurt you don’t belong on the team,” Knowles said. “Your pride should hurt. What I told them is that personally, for me, [Yale was] a tough loss. We haven’t had one like that since I’ve been here. But in terms of the overall team, whether it’s one point or 39 points, it’s just one ‘L’ and you have to move on.”
And move on it will, ­traveling to Georgetown (0-4, 0-2 Patriot) to face a Hoyas team that has given up 28 or more points to each opponent thus far — including a 55-0 loss to Holy Cross last week. Georgetown — who returned a starter at nearly every skill position on offense — features an option attack similar to Bucknell where carries are split between several backs and the quarterback.
“They run that option, so it really makes you be assignment sound,” Knowles said. “It’s not so much focusing on one player but focusing on ‘dive,’ or ‘quarterback,’ for instance. Every phase, you have to have them covered.”
In the Hoyas’ case, tailbacks senior co-captain Kyle Van Fleet and sophomore Charlie Houghton have 43 and 31 carries, respectively, while senior co-captain quarterback Matt Bausseuner has kept it 28 times himself. Unlike the Bison, though, who picked up nearly 200 yards each game on the ground, the Hoyas have only cracked the century mark a few times, averaging 109 yards per game on only 3.2 yards per attempt.
Where Georgetown thrives, Blessing pointed out, is on bubble screens around each end, lining up at least two wide receivers on one side, hitting the inside one with a pass behind the line of scrimmage and having him use a block from the other receiver to bounce it outside to the sideline.
The Hoyas’ passing statistics reflect this short pass approach, with Bausseuner completing 70.9 percent of his passes. In addition, two of the team’s top-4 receivers are Van Fleet and Houghton, while another, freshman Mychal Harrison, also has 16 carries. Knowles solution is for every individual to concentrate on his own assignment — assignment football.
“We played badly [on defense last week] and we did it on the individual techniques,” he said. “There was no major catastrophe. It was guys not doing the techniques they were supposed to do — so let’s get back to winning the line of scrimmage.”
“We have specific assignments on all the plays and you just take care of your man,” Blessing said.
Offensively, after putting on a clinic against Bucknell, the Red sputtered last weekend. The Bulldogs effectively pushed their cover corners up against the line to guard against the screen passes the Red used so effectively against the Bison. Knowles knows that will have to be an issue to address before heading down to Georgetown.
“I think that we need to have some answers for that,” he said. “Teams are going to come up on us more. We threw a couple of long passes to [sophomore Bryan] Walters, and we need to do more of that earlier to get teams off us so we can get back to our short passes.”
Liuzza insists, however, that the Red must not stray too far from what they are used to.
“I think last week we got too cute with it and looked at [Yale] too much and didn’t focus on ourselves,” he said. “So we went into this week focusing on ourselves and our gameplan and executing that the best we can … do what we do best. Work our routes that we run best and not try anything new.”
The other thing Cornell must establish early is the running game, according to Knowles. Last week, the Red fell behind early and was forced to put its hopes almost solely on the arm of junior quarterback Nathan Ford. Senior tailback Luke Siwula didn’t get the ball early, often, or ever and finished with only eight carries — the least he has ever had as a starter (22 games) and his fewest since Nov. 20, 2004. But against a run defense that has given up 263.5 yards per contest — at 5.4 yards per carry — this year, Knowles knows an opportunity exists.
“We want to be balanced,” Knowles said. “We got behind last week and didn’t give our running game a chance. We need to get our running game going from the start so we can keep the sticks moving. … You got to get [Siwula] in a rhythm early. You have to experience some success early … so that we can stick to our gameplan.”