A quick look at the Cornell football depth chart conveys many storylines. Depth is very important to a team with a freshman starting at quarterback, who must rely on the protection of an offensive line riddled with injuries and three injured running backs unable to take handoffs. Injuries have quickly become the focal point for the Red (0-2), which will require the young replacements inserted by first-year head coach Kent Austin to step up when the team travels to Lewisburg, Pa., to take on Bucknell (0-3) tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.
After a season-ending injury sidelined junior quarterback Adam Currie in the team’s first game against Wagner — compounded by the training camp injuries suffered by sophomores signal callers Josh Vick and Chris Amrhein — freshman Jeff Mathews was pressed into action under center. Mathews was the first Cornell freshman quarterback to start a game, but admitted after the Red’s 21-7 loss against Yale that the accomplishment was meaningless without the win. However, the Camarillo, Calif., native is confident that the plan the team has in place on offense could lead to a Cornell victory against Bucknell.
“We have a good game plan in this week, we really feel confident in what we’re doing,” Mathews said. “We got a lot of positives out of last week that hopefully will carry over to this week and lead us to a big victory.”
There will likely be increased pressure on Mathews in the second start of his collegiate career, due to the team’s injuries on the offensive line and at running back. Senior guard Matt Green and junior tackle Drew McGowan are both questionable for tomorrow’s contest against the Bison, while senior tailback Marcus Hendren will likely miss the remainder of the season after suffering a concussion on the Red’s first offensive play last week.
“I just want Jeff to continue to grow. He’s performed way beyond what we [expected]. He did some things, as a freshman, that you don’t even see with seasoned guys,” Austin said.
The Red’s leading rusher from last week — junior Nick Booker-Tandy — also suffered an ankle injury in the team’s last game, but appears ready to go full-speed ahead. In the event that Booker-Tandy is unable to take the field, Austin stated that the coaching staff would use a combination of junior tailback Troy Lewis and sophomore fullback Nick Mlady to fill the void.
“Nick did a great job last week stepping in taking carries, catching the ball in the backfield,” Mathews said. “He’s a very versatile player that can make plays. We have very capable guys all around the field, so we should still be pretty balanced.”
With the injuries continuing to pile up for the Red, the team’s young quarterback recognizes that he must remain focused on what he can still control — the team’s offensive play against Bucknell.
“We’ve seen some things on film. I don’t want to give out too much yet, but we feel like there are big plays there for us and … we should do well,” Mathews said.
On the defensive side of the football, the story has been more about an inability to stop the run than any major injuries. In its first two games the Cornell defense has allowed over 500 yards on the ground.
“At times physically we’re just [physically] getting beat,” Austin said of the team’s defensive struggles. “We’re not getting off blocks, and we’re not tackling well. We’ve got to be able to do better fundamentally.”
However, the biggest problem for the Red has been avoiding turnovers. At a crucial point in the team’s Homecoming loss, sophomore punt returner Luke Tasker muffed a punt and consequently turned the ball over to Yale inside its own 30-yard line. While Austin stated that Tasker would continue to return punts this week, he noted the importance of winning the turnover ratio and how crucial it is to winning games.
“We turned the ball over twice in the first half [against Yale],” he said. “We’re not good enough right now to be turning the ball over.”
Original Author: Evan Rich