September 19, 2008

Red Looks to Reestablish Run

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The running backs, like any other athletes, have concrete goals for the upcoming season: gain yards, win games and so on. One of the most important objectives, however, cannot be measured so easily.
“Something we’ve really been working on is trying to be a dynamic player on the field,” said fifth-year senior Luke Siwula. “If the opportunity arises, we can take it and make a big play and make a big touchdown run. … It could be a gamebreaker. That’s something we’ve really been focusing on.”
And the Red backs know they can do it.
“We’re pretty young, but we are one of the most talented groups on the team,” said junior Randy Barbour.
Siwula and Barbour, who have made up the bulk of the group’s offensive production over the past three years, form the core of the Red running game. Siwula has become a Cornell legend, and Barbour shown at times when replacing Siwula in 2007 after Siwula went down with an injury in the Red’s third game. Barbour led the team with 477 yards on 124 carries and scored six touchdowns — albeit in a different style than Siwula.
“I’m more of a shifty [running back than Siwula],” Barbour said, “and he’s more of a third down back. He’s able to get you the shorter, tough yardage. I do the long run more … I want to get over 1,000 yards this year, and I really plan to do that.”
Based on practices, Barbour and Siwula will be splitting time in 2008.
“Coming off an injury like that, we don’t want to rush [Siwula] but we are hopefully [going to get him in the game],” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Randy is really a guy who does better when he is fresh. I think he performs better when he has juice in his legs. We will use them both and hope they make each other better.”
The Red anticipates using some two-back sets this season to take advantage of the surplus running talent, but mainly on the goal line, according to Barbour. Placing more emphasis on the ground game wouldn’t gel with the team’s gameplan, which has changed in recent years.
“Two or three years ago we were more of a pound-it running offense. I was getting 20-25 carries a game,” Siwula said. “Now we’re a little more spread. We go to the pass first, and that’s been great because it opens up a lot more running lanes for us.
Even with the transition to an active passing game, the run remains a more-than-viable option for the Red — averaging 118.9 yards per game and accounting for 21 touchdowns last year to the nine scored on passes.
“We’re such a veteran crew. We’re getting a lot of work done,” Siwula said. “From an offensive standpoint, this is our second year in the system, so we really feel a lot more comfortable. We don’t have to worry about the basics of the system.”
With this depth, proven and developing, the intensity in practice steps up a notch.
“Our group of running backs is very, very talented this year,” Siwula said. “Every day it’s a competition in practice between me, Randy, [sophomore] Marcus [Hendren] … [and sophomore] Anthony Ambrosi. Every guy has the ability to take snaps back there. If you don’t show up in practice that day, you could be not getting time. We really push each other.”
“I have been around and seen it all [and] been through it all,” Siwula added, “so I try to give [the younger players] little bits of advice. Try to keep them grounded. me and [Barbour have] really kind of stepped up into leadership roles.”
Junior Isaac Minor is also in the mix, having worked well on the punt and kick coverage teams over the past two years. Sophomore Vin Falkiewicz will also be an option.
“Right now, other than Luke, I’m the most experienced running back,” Barbour added, “so I try to model to the younger players how to take care of yourself on and off the field.”
Without many big strategic changes from last year, a major goal of the season for the running backs, along with the rest of the team, is to win the turnover battle.
“That absolutely killed us last year,” Siwula said. “We were able to, on offense, score almost 30 points a game, put up about 400 yards a game, but the turnovers absolutely killed us. That’s the strategy this year. If we can eliminate those turnovers, as an offensive unit we’ll be in a good position to be successful.”