September 19, 2013

FOOTBALL: Cornell Prepares for Homecoming

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Take a walk to North campus at night and you can see the image of three Cornell football players projected onto the red-brick face of Appel. It is a sign of homecoming — the biggest home game of the year for the Red — and also the first ever game with head coach David Archer ’05 at the helm. For Archer, with a long and grueling preseason behind him, the anticipation of this game has been a long time coming. “We’re excited to finally get the chance to play,” Archer said. ‘The preseason is a great opportunity because it’s long, so we’re able to teach and do a lot of things, but there’s nothing like that first game. I’m anxious to get the ball in the air.” The Red will take the field for its first home game of the season on Saturday at 3 p.m., facing off against the Bucknell Bison. A year ago, in front of a homecoming crowd of over 15,000, the Red defeated Ivy League foe Yale, 45-6, and is hoping to attract a similarly sized crowd after that explosive offensive display. “You get a huge turnout every year and we’re hoping that setting the tone in homecoming with this big of a turnout will get fans to come back for every game this season,” said senior captain and inside linebacker Brett Buehler. While most Division I college football teams are already one or two games into their seasons, the Red players and fans have been forced to play the waiting game. According to senior captain and quarterback Jeff Mathews, this has given his team ample opportunity to prepare. “I think we’re at a good point right now,” Mathews said. “I think this is something we’ve been preparing for for a long time, really since last season ended, so it’s good to get out here with everybody and really get in a game week mode.” Going into this first game, the Red will be sending out a very different squad on the offensive side of the ball. Though Mathews will still be a stalwart force with the ball in his hands, he will

not have last year’s receiving core of Luke Tasker ’13, Shane Savage ’13 and Kurt Ondash ’13 to rely on. With only two senior wide receivers in Grant Gellatly and Jesse Heon, the coaching staff has been working to develop the younger talent. “I think there’s a sense of urgency, but there’s also a patience level,” Mathews said of his new receiving core. “We’re not going to expect them to be seniors right now, but we do expect them to get better every day and contribute on the field.” Gellatly — who had 61 receptions last season and caught five touchdowns — has emerged as the leader of this young group of receivers. “It’s been a step for me,” Gellatly said. “We’re pretty young as a receiving core, but it’s just been about getting them to recognize different coverages and learn the plays and the reads. … So I’ve had a bigger role in that, and in the film room especially.” According to Archer, the younger receivers have shown promise throughout the preseason. “They’re young pups back there. … After Grant and Jesse, you’re talking about guys that all have three or more years,” he said. “We saw in the scrimmage a couple of young guys kind of raise their games and step up and make plays.” The Red’s offensive line will also have a new look this year. Though the line returns seniors Josh Grider and Brad Wagner and sophomore Zach Wilk, the loss of the Green Bay Packers’ fourth round draft pick — J.C. Tretter — will still leave a significant gap. “It would always be nice to have a fourth round pick protecting Jeff’s blind side,” Archer said. “But I’m really proud right now of the offensive line because they’re older kids that the majority have stayed up here this summer and really worked hard. They’re guys that have played a lot of games for us, we just have to make sure we keep them healthy and happy.” According to Mathews, the fact that this group has experience playing together will be an important complement to the changes made to the line’s system. “I think we changed our offensive line up a little bit as far as our system and how we’re going to call things,” he said. “Cohesively they work very well together, so it’s going to get exciting when we get out there in live games and those guys are really meshing as a unit.” The Red will take these new units onto the gridiron Saturday to face a Bucknell team that it defeated, 15-10, in an away game last season. Though Cornell struggled offensively that game, it was the defense — which held the Bisons to just 286 yards of offense — that got the job done. The Bisons will have their own experienced quarterback to lead them in senior Brandon Wesley. In Bucknell’s season opening victory over Marist this year, Wesley completed 12 of 16 passes for 176 yards and two

Oliver Kliewe / Sun Senior PhotographerSenior quarterback Jeff Mathews and the Red will hit the gridiron for their first home game of the season on Saturday.