November 9, 2007

Football Hosts Lions, Honors Senior Class

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In game-planning for Columbia this weekend, the football team’s strategy has not been complicated or intensive. The Red’s strategy is simply to have one.
“We’re going to try and mix it up a little more this week,” said junior Stephen Liuzza, who will start at quarterback in place of injured junior Nathan Ford. “[We’re going to] try to get back to our usual game plan — try to actually have a game plan. Last week was just kind of drop back and pass.”
The reason for the helter-skelter offense in the Red’s (4-4, 1-4 Ivy) 59-31 loss to Dartmouth was a combination of several things. First, Ford went down on the third play from the line of scrimmage and was relegated to crutches on the sideline. Second, Liuzza, who had been used mostly out of the slot as a receiver this year, was pushed into action under center. While a quarterback most of his life, Liuzza had only gotten snaps this year running shotgun keepers or draw plays. Third, the Red found itself trailing by multiple touchdowns early and had to go to the air, resulting in only 12 carries between sophomore tailback Randy Barbour and junior Shane Kilcoyne.
Against a Columbia team (1-7, 0-5) that has given up nearly 260 yards per game on the ground, and over three rushing tallies per contest, the Red may have a chance to refocus on the run after Barbour dropped from 32 carries against Brown to 26 carries against Princeton, to seven last week against Dartmouth.
Like most weeks, though, Cornell does not want to overhaul its strategy, but stay consistent with its offensive approach.
“I don’t think were going to change much,” said sophomore receiver Bryan Walters. “I think we’re just going to go with what we do and see how that goes.”
What the Red will do differently without Ford under center is spread out the offense. Liuzza often lines up in the shotgun formation with five wide receivers split wide, and sometimes an empty backfield.
“One thing for sure is that receivers have to keep moving,” Walters said. “[Liuzza]’s going to scramble and we’re going to have to find an opening somewhere. We’re always alive, let’s just say that, no matter what the play is, he’s going to make something happen and we’re going to be running somewhere.”
Liuzza did a bit of that last week, often tucking the ball and bobbing his way through the line. He racked up 29 rushes totaling 131 yards.
“With Steve out there [the five receiver spread] just spreads them apart and allows Steve to pick them apart with his legs or with his arms,” Walters said. “It definitely gives us a lot of looks.”
While the Red offense has been racking up impressive numbers this year, translating over 400 yards of offense per game into an average of 28.4 points per contest, turnovers have counteracted some of the progress. The Red has thrown 16 interceptions and lost 10 fumbles, but 13 of these have come in the last two weeks. Columbia has not been a take-away defense though, only nabbing 10 picks and recovering seven fumbles on the year.
“We’ve actually been doing some more drills working on mainly ball security and running through bags and having guys try and pull away at the ball,” Liuzza said. “Hopefully that will help. I feel like we’ve been unlucky the last few weeks.”
While Cornell’s offense has put up over 30 points in its last three contests, the defense has also allowed over 30 points in each of those games. It has been beat through the air one week, on the ground another and with the big play last week.
It will be the passing attack the Red will have to watch out for against the Lions. Led by quarterback Craig Hormann, who has compiled 2,042 yards through the air thus far, Columbia’s offense has gained around 80 percent of its total yards through the air.
Austin Knowlin has been Hormann’s main target, hauling in 54 catches for 757 yards and eight scores. The receiver needs 203 yards over his last two games to tie the all-time record for receiving yards in Columbia’s history.
The anemic Lions’ rushing offense, averaging 63.8 yards per game, is a two-headed back approach with Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel accounting for six of the team’s seven rushing scores.
Besides the poor rushing attack, Columbia has been a slow team out of the gates this year, scoring 20 points in the first quarter all year, and 57 before the first half. Much of the reason the Red has had to go to a passing attack so frequently has been an early deficet.
In comparison, the Red has put up 102 points before the break.
“We’re just going to try and get back to our game plan and score as many points as we can,” Liuzza said.