October 31, 2008

Football Looks to End Skid

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Most teams mired in a three-game losing skid tend to play tentatively. Don’t tell that to senior tight end Alex Spooner, who was frolicking bare-chested in the 40 degree weather yesterday during stretching exercises as Cornell prepares to host Princeton tomorrow afternoon at Schoellkopf Field. Spooner, or “Chewbacca” as one his teammates shouted out, and the rest of the Cornell offense will attempt to redeem itself after posting a season-low seven points at Brown last Saturday.
“We believe in our people and in our system,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “It’s a matter of a breakthrough. We need some big plays. We’ve been giving up some big plays, but we haven’t gotten enough on offense and special teams. We need some field position changers — 60-yard touchdown kind of thing.”[img_assist|nid=33160|title=Run for the money|desc=Senior running back Luke Siwula (25) and the Red rushing game must bounce back from a disappointing 52-yard performance against Brown last weekend as it faces visiting Princeton tomorrow.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We’ve gone back to what’s worked for us,” said senior wide receiver Jesse Baker, who leads the Red with five touchdown receptions. “We’ve looked at every formation and the percentages of what we’ve done well. So, we’ve narrowed our game plan down to everything that we’ve done well. That’s what we’re going to go with this week.”
After the Cornell (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) running attack was stifled for only 52 yards last weekend, look for the Redto rebound against a Princeton (2-4, 1-2 Ivy) defense, which is second to last in the Ancient Eight against the run. Junior running back Randy Barbour paces the Red with 275 yards and four touchdowns from the line of scrimmage this year, averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
“We want to establish the running attack every game,” Knowles said. “But you have to be able to take what the defense gives you and your offensive line has to produce. Brown controlled things, so we had to get away from the running game, but we will definitely go after it again this week.”
The Tigers boast a superb running game of their own and will trot out the Ivy League’s leading rusher in junior Jordan Culbreath. The 5-11, 195-pound tailback enters the contest averaging 5.3 yards per carry and is Princeton’s — and the Ivy League’s — leading scorer with six trips to the end zone. Culbreath torched the Red last season rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
“Their running back really broke out against us last year and hasn’t stopped,” Knowles said. “He’s really hurt everybody. We have to make sure that we keep him contained and also jilt him a little bit to throw him off balance.”
Gearing up to stop the run could be the determining factor in this matchup as the Tigers rank last in the Ivy League with 181.5 passing yards per outing, but first in rushing offense. According to Knowles, Princeton runs a shotgun spread option attack, which should certainly be familiar for Cornell. Until two years ago, the Red utilized the same offensive strategy.
Both squads are equally starved for a victory as Princeton has also dropped its last three contests. The home team has won the five previous head-to-head matchups, though. Although Cornell suffered a 38-22 route on at Schoellkopf Field last time out against Colgate, Baker and his teammates are eager to return to their winning ways tomorrow.
“We’re trying to just get back in focus on offense and enjoy playing at home,” Baker said. “[We have to] win back Schoellkopf because we didn’t really have a good performance last time.”
Despite being tied for fourth place in the Ancient Eight, Cornell and Princeton are quickly becoming heated rivals. In 2007, Princeton held on for the victory in the final seconds of regulation as Cornell missed a 47-yard field goal en route to a 34-31 defeat at Princeton Stadium.
“There’s some bad blood there,” Baker said. “We felt like we outplayed them last year and it got away from us with some turnovers and not executing at the end. That’s definitely in the back of our minds, but it’s just another Ivy League game and we have to go out and win it the way we should.”