October 20, 2011

FOOTBALL | Mathews Guides Offense in Search For First Ivy Win

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It has often been said that defense wins championships. While this old adage might well be true, it certainly does not hurt to have a dominant offense that can routinely put points on the board. After failing to score more than 21 points in any of its 10 games last season, offensive coordinator Jeff Fela’s unit has posted 24 points or more in four of five contests this year, including consecutive 31-point performances in the team’s last two home games.

On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., Cornell (2-3, 0-2 Ivy League) looks for its first conference win of the 2011 campaign in a matchup with the red hot Brown Bears (4-1, 1-1), who enter Schoellkopf Field on the heels of a dominating shutout victory over Princeton, 34-0.

The Red returns home after a wild overtime loss at Colgate, 35-28, in which Cornell rallied to tie the game after trailing by 11 points with 2:12 remaining. An early touchdown in the extra session by the Raiders — and the subsequent turnover on downs by the Cornell offense — sent the Red on a long bus ride home from nearby Hamilton, N.Y., forcing the team to shift its focus to its third Ivy contest of the season.

“We try not to let anything in the past impact our preparation for this weekend,” said sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews, who threw for over 300 yards against Colgate. “[To lose the way we did] makes you watch a little bit more film, work a little bit harder because we were that close and we have to do a little bit more every week to get better and reach the peak.”

As a second year starter, Mathews has served as a leader on and off the field for the offensive unit, according to members of the wide receiving corps. The trio of senior Shane Savage and juniors Luke Tasker and Kurt Ondash has accounted for 1,185 yards through the air and 10 of Mathews’ 11 passing touchdowns. For Ondash, who has emerged as one of the sophomore quarterback’s top options after recording only 11 catches last season, the offense’s early success is the result of Mathews’ ability to spread the ball around the field.

“We have a really good offensive scheme,” he explained. “Jeff is a great quarterback and we have a great receiving corps, so we really open it up for each other. If a certain guy is being covered more heavily one game, it just opens up things for other people.”

Ondash led the Red with six catches last week against Colgate, highlighted by an 18-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter.

On Saturday Mathews will face a Brown defense that allows only 15.6 points per game, with an average of 157.8 passing yards; however, the Bears’ greatest weakness has been defending against the ground game. Through the first five games of the season, Brown’s opponents are rushing for 182.0 yards on average.

“They’re a very good defense,” Mathews noted. “Very good up front. Secondary is solid and a very good linebacker corps, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us this week.”

“They’re a solid defense,” Ondash added. “They mix up their scheme a lot, play a bunch of different coverages … but we’re a good offense, too, so there’s definitely some open space out there for us to capitalize on.”

In its first half of the season, the Red featured a variety of runners in the backfield, with sophomore Grant Gellatly serving as the team’s feature back. An injury sustained prior to last week’s loss limited Gellatly to one rushing attempt at Colgate, after recording 14 touches the week prior against Harvard. Senior tight end Ryan Houska carried the load in the sophomore’s absence, leading the offense with 81 yards on the ground in addition to four receptions for 23 yards.

The Brown offense is led by quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero, who enters Saturday’s action with a 61.3 completion percentage and nine touchdowns.  The senior’s 1,222 yards through the air is second to only Mathews (1,450) among Ivy League signal callers.

On the ground, the Bears feature junior Mark Kachner and sophomore John Spooney, who have combined for nearly 500 yards and two touchdowns thus far. Newhall-Caballero’s primary target, junior wide receiver Tellef Lundevall, leads the Brown offense with 29 receptions and four touchdowns.

In the team’s comeback attempt against Colgate, the Red cut its deficit to five with 1:50 remaining on a 52-yard touchdown strike from Mathews to Tasker. Converting on long passing plays in crunch time is nothing unusual for this Cornell offense, as Mathews has displayed his ability to throw the ball downfield all season long. The sophomore quarterback secured the Red’s opening night victory over Bucknell, 24-13, with an 87-yard bomb to Ondash in the final minute.

“[The ability to make] big plays is a huge part of our offense, and that is something we look for every game,” Ondash explained. “At the end of the game … when you’re down, we know that no matter how far we have to go that we can always pull it out.”

Original Author: Evan Rich