November 6, 2007

Liuzza Replaces Ford, Excels at Quarterback

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The injury bug has officially bitten the football team. It first hit senior halfback Luke Siwula, who has not played since a Sept. 29 contest against Georgetown. Now, it has moved on to junior quarterback Nathan Ford, who went down on Saturday against Dartmouth. Saturday’s loss of Ford, though, means that his backup was able to see significant playing time. That beneficiary was sophomore Stephen Liuzza, who had statistically the best game of his career in the 59-31 loss to Dartmouth on Saturday afternoon.
“[The offensive coaches] told me before the game just in case Nate goes down and we need a spark that they’re going to put me in there and do a few plays,” Liuzza said. “It’s stuff we ran before because I was a quarterback pretty much all of the spring. So it wasn’t really anything new.”
Liuzza’s big day against Dartmouth was not a complete surprise. Last year, as a freshman, he saw some playing time behind center. Liuzza actually set school records for freshmen with 139 yards passing on the season and 114 in a game against Penn. He also ran for 135 yards on the year, with two scores.
This year, Liuzza was moved to receiver, where he became a prime target for Ford. The sophomore initially made his mark in Cornell’s first contest of the season, in which he caught seven balls for 84 yards in a win over Bucknell. On the year, Liuzza has made 23 receptions totaling 196 yards.
On Saturday, though, circumstances dictated drastic action. When Ford went down early in the contest, Liuzza was back at his old stomping ground — behind center. With a new quarterback now at the helm, Ford helped to ease the transition to the younger Liuzza.
“He’s studied differently than I did coming into the game, so he knew things better than I did,” Liuzza said. “He was real good with everything so he was just telling me what he saw from the sideline and things like if they were bringing two guys here, what to do and just trying to help me with what I saw and what he saw from the sideline. It really helped me out.”
Liuzza did not disappoint, as the quarterback, he completed 26-of-40 passes for 292 yards and a score. In addition to being a force through the air, he also made plays with his legs. He ran 29 times and picked up 131 yards and two scores on the day. Liuzza’s experience with the receiving corps this season helped him against Dartmouth.
“As a receiver I’m actually pretty conditioned from practice and running routes a lot,” Liuzza said. “I think I fared well with that. I was tired, but probably not as tired as one might think for a regular quarterback.”
Liuzza’s presence means that Cornell utilizes a different type of offense than normal. Bothered by injury, Ford has not been a threat on the ground this year, only picking up 55 yards on the season. Liuzza eclipsed that mark almost threefold in one game. Also, with Liuzza under center, the Red frequently empty out the backfield. This meant fewer carries for sophomore Randy Barbour, who had been filling in for Siwula. After racking up 159 yards against Brown and 88 yards against Princeton, the sophomore was held to just 27 yards on seven carries.
One other byproduct of Liuzza’s position switch is an unusual piece of apparel for a quarterback — gloves. While most quarterbacks throw with their bare hands, Liuzza opts for an unconventional approach.
“When I started playing receiver, I would wear gloves all the time at practice,” Liuzza said. “I would just use those and then keep them on and throw with the gloves on. … It was cold too, so my hands felt a lot better and it was easier to grip that ball with it being so cold. … It was basically out of habit [that I started wearing them]. It doesn’t affect me, if anything it helps me when it’s cold.”