October 24, 2008

Football Hopes to Topple Bears

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It was hard to take football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 seriously as he casually discussed the intricacies of Brown’s passing attack. He had a unibrow thickly drawn in and a dark mustache painted on his upper lip — not to mention a towel stuffed in the back of his shirt to give a hunchback look.
But Knowles knew what he was talking about. In fact, he was dead serious about shutting down Ivy leader Brown’s (3-2, 2-0 Ivy) potent passing attack. With wins over Harvard and Princeton, Brown is the only undefeated Ivy squad remaining.
“The lessons learned [last year] were to keep everything in front and inside, play a lot of zone and try to jam their receivers,” Knowles said, referencing his squad’s dramatic 38-31 overtime victory over Brown last season. “We got caught in some blitzes early and they beat us. We still have to blitz, but we have to pick and choose our moments.”[img_assist|nid=32949|title=Bouncing back|desc=Senior defensive back Frank Morand (22) will face a tough test in Brown’s prolific passing attack, headed by quarterback Michael Dougherty.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
What Knowles was also serious about was moving his team (3-2, 1-1) past two straight disappointing losses. That was where the face paint and towel stuffing come in. The Red was having its weekly “Wacky Wednesday” practice and on this particular Wednesday, the coaches came dressed as each other. Knowles was simply playing the part of mustached, crew cut sporting defensive coordinator Pete DeStefano, much to the amusement of his players. It was time to forget about the uncharacteristic defensive performances of the last two weeks and move forward.
For the Red, though, taking one step forward could mean taking two steps back first. Knowles mentioned going back to basics in the press conference after the team’s 38-22 loss to Colgate last Saturday. Junior safety Frank Morand said much of the same at practice on Wednesday.
“We’re keeping it simple this week on defense,” Morand said. “We only have a few coverages. Not a whole lot of man this week compared to last week. We’re just keeping it simple to stuff we know, stuff we feel comfortable with.”
Colgate burned Cornell’s man-to-man coverage for deep passing plays to the sidelines and over the middle last week. Raiders quarterback Greg Sullivan only had eight completions, but they totaled 255 yards through the air.
Facing Brown quarterback Michael Dougherty — who has accounted for 276.8 yards per game through the air, including a 526-yard effort against Princeton two weeks ago — will be no break for the secondary.
“[Their passing attack is] real varied,” Knowles said. “They go from the quick stuff — quick slants, quick throws, a lot of screens, a ton of screens, bubble screens, jailbreak screens, tailback screens — then they’re not afraid to throw it down the field.”
Brown’s pass offense — 13th in the FCS and second in the Ivy League to Harvard — has paled in comparison to its running attack. The Bears are only averaging 90.2 yards per game on the ground, 102nd of 118 FCS teams.
Instead, Brown spreads the field with Dougherty’s two favorite targets, Bobby Sewall and Buddy Fenham. Fenham posted 285 total yards in the Bears’ win over Princeton last weekend. Fenham also hurt the Red secondary last year.
“They’re going to complete some routes and complete some short routes,” Morand said. “We have to keep them in front of us. … I don’t know if teams are afraid of [Fenham]. He’s caught a lot of passes, but he’s just like everybody else. He’s not the best receiver we’ve faced this year. He’s effective at what they do.”
This week might be a chance for Cornell’s own receivers to have some success, however. Brown’s rush defense has been much more staunch than its secondary. Knowles insists that the team isn’t taking the same approach it took against Lehigh, however, where the team came in expecting to pass the ball around 60 times. The Red ended up with 64 pass attempts, but don’t expect to see the same gaudy numbers come Saturday. Instead, Knowles said that the team has only gotten away from the run the past two weeks because of early deficits.
“We could be leading the country in first downs right now,” Knowles said. “… It seems like we’re able to drive the field, but we need a couple of big plays. You think you’re more apt to get them in the passing game, but we also want to be able to create some looks, whether it be for [junior wide receiver] Stephen [Liuzza] or the running backs where people can spread out enough so we can break a run.”
Senior wide receiver Zac Canty echoed his coach’s sentiments about spreading the field, pointing out that the passing game is not all about a vertical attack.
“We really got away from stretching people horizontally [last week],” he said. “We like to stretch them horizontally with a little horizontal screen pass and stuff like that. We’re going to focus on doing more of that to open up the running lanes in between.”