October 27, 2008

Red offense can’t build on early score as run game, red zone offense struggles

Print More

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Everything seemed back to normal. Cornell was on the road at Brown Stadium and senior signal caller Nathan Ford had just connected with senior wide receiver Jesse Baker to stake the Red to an early 7-0 advantage over the Bears with five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Baker’s 16-yard cross route accounted for his team-leading fifth touchdown — hauling in all five on the road. For Ford, it was his sixth touchdown away from Schoellkopf Field and seventh of the season. The Red offense seemed to be clicking much as it had earlier in the season. Who knew, however, that those would be the only points Cornell would score all afternoon as the Red suffered its third straight defeat, 27-7?
“After that first drive, we felt we had something going and then after that we just sputtered,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “That’s the only word I can use. It was a combination of them being aggressive and physical with their defense and we just did not make enough plays. We have skill guys, who need to step up and break a tackle. We’ve got a quarterback, who has to make the appropriate throws. We’ve got guys, who can do it, but it just didn’t click.”
Cornell won the time of possession battle, but as the Red discovered this does not necessarily guarantee that you win the game. Failing to capitalize on red zone opportunities contributed in large part to the Red’s demise. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter junior wide out Stephen Liuzza took a direct snap from inside Brown’s 20-yard line. Liuzza headed to the right before reversing his field towards the middle where he was met by senior linebacker Miles Craigwell. Brown’s second-leading tackler on the season forced a fumble to halt Cornell’s drive. The turnover proved costly as the Red was only trailing 13-7 at the time. On the ensuing series, the Bears drove the length of the field for a touchdown to ice the game.
“We’re down there in the red zone and we turn the ball over, we make a play and we get set back by a penalty,” Knowles said. “It’s like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot too much. If you go back three weeks, we weren’t doing any of that. We weren’t great on offense, but at least we were consistent and we didn’t turn the ball over.”
On Saturday, Cornell visited the red zone four times and only came away with seven points in contrast to Brown, which was a perfect 3-for-3 on red zone possessions. Cornell’s final failed series in the red zone sealed the victory for Brown. Ford was unable to duplicate his early first half magic with Baker, tossing an incomplete pass with six and half minutes remaining in regulation. On the afternoon, Ford completed 29 passes in 48 attempts for 216 yards.
“I feel like they made a few adjustments in keeping us in front of them,” Ford said. “We had a lot of long drives, but their defensive line bends, but does not break. We moved the ball, but then had a turnover and a failed fourth down conversion. It was just the little things. Because we weren’t getting those big plays, we needed to be perfect and we weren’t.”
Aside from the red zone deficiencies, the sputtering running attack demonstrated to be the primary area of concern for a struggling Cornell offense. The tandem tailback combination of junior Randy Barbour and senior Luke Siwula accounted for a season low production from the line of scrimmage, mustering a minuscule 30 yards combined on only 11 carries. The popular consensus is to forgo the running attack when playing from behind against a high-powered offense such as Brown’s, but the score was close for much of the contest until the Bears pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“We really have to look at that,” Knowles said. “I’m really questioning why our running game is not as effective as it should be because it needs to be. I agree because the game was close. I’m not real pleased with our offensive line right now. We’ll have to look at the film, but it seemed like they were handling the front better than us. And sometimes when you’re calling plays, because they’re controlling the line of scrimmage, you’re thinking the running game is not going to work.”
A lack of a running attack only makes the quarterback’s task more difficult. Ford’s passes were frequently rushed and he faced a heavy onslaught of pressure all afternoon. Entering the contest, Brown ranked last in the Ivy League in pass defense, but constant pressure from senior defensive tackles Wale Adedokun and David Howard forced Ford from the pocket on numerous occasions.
“It definitely hurt,” Ford said. “They have two great defensive tackles [Adedokun and Howard]. That would be one of the reasons I would say our offense kind of struggled. Those two D-tackles just got to blow up our guards and get pressure. When they can do that with four people, they make it tough for our offense.”
Ford was hurried repeatedly by the Bear’s aggressive defense and officially sacked twice, once by Adedokun. The offensive line was praised early on in the season as the unit had not allowed a sack until its fourth game, but praise was the furthest thing from Knowles’ mind after the game.
“I think they out-physicaled us upfront. I think their defensive linemen did a good job of keeping us off-balanced and really shutting down our run game. We didn’t make enough plays. Guys can’t drop the ball. We had guys open, we didn’t get it to them. We just did not click.”
Seven points marks Cornell’s most anemic offensive output of the season. The last time the Red was held to only one trip inside the end zone dates back 20 games. Coincidentally, it was the same Brown defense at Brown Stadium that defeated Cornell, 28-7, in October 2006.
Suffering its second straight Ivy League loss essentially eliminates the Red from competing for the Ancient Eight title. After the game, Coach Knowles challenged his team, in particularly the seniors, to snap out of this midseason malaise. With four Ivy League matches remaining on the schedule, the Red must still fight for a winning record and league wide respect to take into next season.
“I said ‘Look you guys have worked very hard,’” Knowles recounted. “‘You’ve sacrificed for four years. Our team is at a point where we need to come together. The seniors had better step up, have a lot of pride and have it mean something when we play at home. If there’s a wakeup call, I’m giving you one. You better open your eyes and be excited, fly around and make plays. You need to step up and be a leader and pull this team up by the bootstraps and show them the way.’”