October 5, 2010

Running Back Booker-Tandy Boasts Impressive Attack

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In Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season, Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb was sacked and concussed by Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers. With Kolb done for the game, coach Andy Reid turned to his controversial backup quarterback Michael Vick. The result? Vick soared in a replacement role for the Eagles and led the team to back-to-back wins and first place in the NFC East. Just as soon as an injury gave Vick a shot at redemption, though, another injury found him once again on the Eagles bench, providing yet another piece of evidence for how brutally unpredictable the sport of football can be. The differences between NFL football and college football are monumental, but the role that injuries play in the sport transcends the various levels of competition. You don’t need to explain this to the Cornell football team, which has had to deal with more than its fair share of injuries early in the 2010 season. Yet as has been the case with the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback carousel, some of the injuries plaguing the Red may not entirely be for the worse; when one player goes down, another is forced to step up and the story of the Cornell backfield is a perfect example. Entering the 2010 season, the Red featured a trio of running backs ready to instill a dominant rushing attack for Cornell. With a game against Ivy League favorite and long-time rival Harvard looming on Saturday, however, the team now finds itself without two of its most productive backs in freshman Grant Gellatly (broken foot) and senior Marcus Hendren (concussion).  Instead of making excuses and drastically changing its offensive game plan, though, running backs coach David Archer ’05 and the rest of the Red coaching staff have maintained their high expectations and the running backs have responded. The new face of the Cornell backfield is junior tailback Nick Booker-Tandy. A former wide receiver from Lafayette College, Booker-Tandy transferred to Cornell last year and immediately impressed his teammates with his athleticism and open-field running skills. “He’s an exciting player,” said freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews. “Every time he touches the ball he has an opportunity to score.  He’s very explosive and he brings a different element to our offense.” While Booker-Tandy was always expecting to contribute to the Red offense this season, the junior never thought that he would be the leading man by the team’s second game against Yale. “It was kind of unexpected. I had to take on a full-time role and we weren’t necessarily prepared for that,” Booker-Tandy said. “I really have to step up.” So far Booker-Tandy has stayed true to his word, accumulating 88 yards and a touchdown rushing and 86 yards and a touchdown receiving over Cornell’s past two games.  If you asked Archer, he would have told you that he expected such a performance from Booker-Tandy. The Cornell assistant coach expects each and every player to be ready to fill a hole when one is present, and says that the current running back situation is no different. Mathews agrees, stating, “When guys step up we expect them to play at a high level and so far they have.” Describing himself as a scatback, Booker-Tandy is not a conventional running back. His prior experience as a wide receiver and his speed and elusiveness in the open-field make him an opposing coach’s nightmare, especially when he is matched up against a linebacker. “I do pretty well on linebackers out of the backfield, we have an advantage there as far as athleticism goes,” Booker-Tandy said.  Booker-Tandy was almost unstoppable in the receiving game against Yale, gaining 70 yards on six passes from Mathews and scoring the only points for the Red on the afternoon. Saturday was a different story though, as the junior tailback dropped two passes and lost a fumble against Bucknell. “My part is just making sure that I catch the ball,” Booker-Tandy said. “I need to step up and make sure that I do that. This last game I didn’t do as well as I did against Yale.”  Booker-Tandy is bound to endure his fair share of struggles and is currently dealing with an injury of his own –– an ankle that will require an MRI this afternoon –– but it appears that the Red has another player ready to step up if needed. Junior Troy Lewis has been with the Cornell football program since he was a freshman on the junior varsity squad and he has worked incessantly to earn playing time at the varsity level. On Saturday against Bucknell Lewis got his shot and made the most of it, rushing for 37 yards on the team’s final drive to help seal the victory for the Red. “Troy Lewis has been working his tail off since I got here,” Booker-Tandy said. “He had an opportunity to step up [against Bucknell] and he really showed his stripes. I was standing there on the sideline and I was really happy for him.” Despite word from Archer that Gellatly and Hendren are rehabbing persistently, a possible return to action for either of Cornell’s backs remains uncertain. As a result, the Red rushing attack will continue to rely on the legs of Booker-Tandy and Lewis in the coming weeks. If previous performances are a sign of things to come (the Red accumulated 147 yards on the ground against the Bison), the Cornell rushing attack might be in better shape than was previously thought. This is good news to Mathews, who understands that all facets of the offense must be in full force in order for the team to find success throughout the season. “We want a balanced run attack. I think that gives us the best chance to win,” Mathews said. “When we can run the ball effectively our offense is much better.”

Original Author: Dan Froats