October 2, 2008

Sidelines Are Calmer for Red in 2008

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Fresh off one of the biggest upsets in the football program’s recent history, it is almost impossible to find anybody at Schoellkopf Field still reveling in the glory of victory. The message is simple: new week, new game, new opponent.
During the previous four seasons with head coach Jim Knowles ’87 at the helm, the football squad may have succumbed to the hype that comes with defeating a team such as Yale, the preseason Ivy League favorite. Not this year.
[img_assist|nid=32268|title=Huddled up, but not too hyped up|desc=As opposed to years past, when the football team would dwell on misfortune, the Red has a new attitude this year to remain cool and collected on the sidelines when the game gets close.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We like to take 24 to 48 hours to really enjoy a win,” said senior linebacker Graham Rihn. “[Beating Yale] was a huge win for our program. We were really excited about that win for those 48 hours and really took it in and enjoyed it. [However,] you have a 10-week season, so you have to move on and we realize that. After being here for three years and seeing that we might have [dwelled] on wins for longer than a week, it can really hurt you.”
20-20 entering this season as head coach of the Red, Knowles knew something had to be done. This philosophical change was something he and his staff identified in the offseason, implementing it first from the top down.
“It’s not subtle,” Knowles said. “I addressed it. It’s all a part of [what] we call our ‘Get Mad’ program, which is making a difference. The theory is always do what you’ve always done and you’ll always get what you always had. Everybody had to look at things a little bit different. A lot of the times, that starts with yourself as a person, which is sometimes the hardest to do. I thought our team played up and down. I wanted us to be steadier and more even-keeled, so I try to model that.”
So far, the 2008 campaign has provided a number of ups and downs to test Knowles and rest of the Cornell sideline. The first test occurred earlier this season when Cornell opened up on the road at Bucknell and senior quarterback Nathan Ford threw an interception on the first drive of the game. The Bison ran the ball back to the Red’s five-yard line before punching it in the end zone. Just like that, Cornell was trailing 7-0 in the first three minutes of its season-opener. After the Red secured a 21-20 victory off of Rihn’s blocked PAT, Knowles offered a look into the past.
“These guys know if that would have happened in previous years, I would have been pulling what little hair I have in my head out,” Knowles said. “But, you know I kind of just shrugged it off and said ‘Okay, let’s come back.’ … In the past, we might have gone in the tank, but there was a resolve in the team to stick together.”
The senior class has also been instrumental in establishing a new attitude both on and off the gridiron. Senior wide receiver Zac Canty, who has caught five balls for 35 yards in the first two games, explained players would sometimes focus too much on making plays instead of just “trusting in the system that we had.”
However, the difference for the Red this year is that when the tempo of the game speeds up, the demeanor on the sideline remains calm and cool.
“In the game of football, you’re going to run into adversity every game,” Canty said. “You always try to play the perfect game, but perfect games don’t really come about. You just have to keep doing what you’re taught and stay after it. Coach Knowles and the other coaches have done a great job of changing that mindset. I just think that the senior class has taken it upon ourselves to have that attitude and it trickles down to the rest of the team.”
“I think in any season you’re going to experience peaks and mountains and valleys,” Rihn said. “In the past, we haven’t really been able to keep a level head about that. Once we would have a big win, we would blow up and really enjoy it and then we would have a lull the next week and lose to a team we should have beaten.”
The Red encountered another moment of adversity when Yale returned a 71-yard punt for a touchdown right before halftime. After the Red had dominated much of the first two quarters, the Bulldogs managed to cut the score to 14-7.
However, the Red responded on the first play from scrimmage in the second half as senior defensive lineman Frank Kunis forced Yale quarterback Brook Hart to fumble the ball, which was recovered by Rihn. As the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Red’s 17-14 upset over Yale, Knowles sought out his class of seniors and reminded each of them that this is where they expected to be.
“Everything was calm,” Knowles said in the post-game press conference. “Everything was poised. Four years ago in my first home game against Yale, we won. We were running around like crazy. Now, it’s much more reserved and it’s like ‘Hey, this is what we worked for. This is the plan.’”