Judging by the amount of Priuses on the road today, hybrids are all the rage. In the football team’s 34-14 win over Columbia on Saturday afternoon, a different type of hybrid made a big impact. Junior Graham Rihn, who plays a hybrid linebacker-defensive end position in Cornell’s 3-3-5 defense, had one of the best games of his career.
Rihn was all over the field, ending up with eight tackles against Columbia, third-best on the team. Four and a half of those tackles were for a loss, and Rihn also recorded one sack. In one instance in the second quarter, when Lions senior quarterback Criag Hormann dropped back to pass, Rihn burst threw the line and drove Hormann into the ground for a sack. Other times, even when he didn’t record a sack, he still got his hands on the quarterback, knocking down Hormann, and then Hormann’s replacement, sophomore Shane Kelly.
“When we blitz, it’s pretty much pin your ears back and go,” Rihn said. “When coach [Jim] Knowles [’87] calls a blitz, you don’t have to worry about anything except going at full speed, trying to make a play, so it takes a lot of pressure off of our shoulders. We don’t have to read run, read pass, he gives us a lot of freedom out there, when he calls a blitz, we go, and we do whatever we want with the play.”
Rihn’s presence also wreaked havoc with Columbia’s ground game, which only recorded 64 yards on the day. In the final minute of the third quarter, sophomore Pete Stoll tried to run the ball up the middle, but Rihn, along with help from junior Frank Kunis, stuffed Stoll for a two-yard loss.
Because of his hybrid position, Rihn lined up differently on every play. Sometimes he lined up on the left; sometimes he lined up on the right.
Sometimes he rushed the passer; sometimes, he dropped back into coverage. The result was that he seemed to be around the ball all the time.
“I felt like their snap count, they would check off, and I knew it was going to go, so I was able to get a good jump on the ball,” Rihn said. “I think that as a defense, the past two weeks, we don’t think we’ve been playing to our potential. We really wanted to come out and play fast and play well, and I think that’s what we did and we were able to do it.”
Rihn’s play was part of a more aggressive defensive philosophy by Knowles. The frequent blitzes by Rihn and other members of the Cornell defense disrupted Columbia’s offensive rhythm and helped to hold the Lions to only 14 points.
“We knew we were going against a team that was going to try and throw it,” Knowles said. “That’s what they had done well. We really emphasized to our defensive players that they need to get off on the ball and attack the quarterback. And we called a lot of things. We blitzed more than we have all year, and that’s the way we want to be. We wanted to be able to be more aggressive on defense, and I think that really helps our guys. I saw our DBs playing with a renewed confidence and I saw our D-line really flying around and really getting to the quarterback.”
To just add to his solid day, Rihn also made a huge contribution to special teams.
In the first quarter, with Cornell up 7-0, Rihn blocked a Columbia field goal. The ball was recovered by senior Doug Lempa, and the Red were able to score on the ensuing offensive drive.
“Every week we scheme up a field goal block,” Rihn said. “We look at the opposing team’s field goal on film. We felt like Columbia might have some space in their ‘A’ gap between the guard and center, and I was able swim in and get a block.”
Rihn came to Cornell as a traditional defensive end, and over his first two years, he played on the line, notching 18 total tackles. This year, he was moved to the hybrid position, where he has thrived.