October 31, 2013

FOOTBALL | Princeton Stands Between C.U. and First Conference Win

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The Cornell football team looks to snap a five-game losing streak and earn its first Ivy League victory tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Princeton, N.J. against a red-hot Princeton team that brings in a five-game winning streak. Regardless of the records, the rivals are aware that anything can happen in a series in which 18 of the last 23 contests have been decided by a touchdown or less and 13 by a field goal or less or in overtime.

But the Red (1-5, 0-3 Ivy) does face tough odds against the Tigers (5-1, 3-0), who are on the heels of a 51-48 triple-overtime win at No. 23 Harvard last Saturday to stay tied with Penn atop the League standings. Princeton finished 1-9 two years ago before improving to 5-5 in 2012, and its only loss this campaign was by one point to No. 21 Lehigh in the season opener.

“[Fourth-year Princeton head coach Bob Surace] and his coaching staff and their players have done an outstanding job,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for them and what they’ve been able to accomplish in their time there.”

The Tigers boast a high-powered offense ranked third in the FCS and first in the Ancient Eight. They average 534.2 yards and 43.8 points per game, led by junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, who has completed 70.5 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and a single interception.

Epperly threw an Ivy record six touchdowns in the thrilling victory over the Crimson, the last of which won the game on a six-yard touchdown pass, en route to National Offensive Player of the Week honors. Epperly is also the Tigers second-leading rusher with 353 yards — 86 last time out — and already 11 scores on the ground this season.

“Epperly is one of many [Princeton offensive weapons] and the leader of many,” Archer said. “He’s the trigger man; there’s no question he makes it go. He can throw, he can run — there’s not much he can’t do.”

And yet the Tigers have another quarterback who has thrown for over 600 yards and a couple of scores on the year. Junior Connor Michelsen splits snaps with Epperly in Princeton’s two-quarterback system coordinated by former Brown star James Perry.

Until a month ago, Perry held the Ivy record for most career passing yards. That distinction now belongs to Cornell senior quarterback Jeff Mathews, who has put together a not-too-shabby season himself. He is completing 64.3 percent of his passes and averaging 347.7 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Red would like to lighten Mathews’ load, though, as he has produced nearly 90 percent of the team’s total offense (including most gained rushing yards and touchdowns), by far the highest proportion of any player in the country. Epperly, for example, accounts for only 44.6 percent of his squad’s output, albeit in a two-QB scheme.

Cornell established some much-needed balance in last week’s 42-35 home loss against Brown. Sophomore running back Luke Hagy carried 12 times for 70 yards, one more yard than he had tallied in the first five games combined. His 23-yard run in the third quarter was the Red’s longest rush of the season and set up junior wide receiver Lucas Shapiro’s fifth touchdown reception of 2013.

“There’s no question a huge positive was [Hagy’s performance] and we’ve got to continue to push that balance,” Archer said. “It’s not something that we’ve purposefully been ignoring. It’s just how it’s kind of gone in terms of what we feel gives us the best chance throughout the course of the games.”

Balance is something Princeton’s offense certainly does not lack. Epperly’s ultra-efficient passing complements the multi-faceted rushing game, the heart of the Tigers explosive attack. Sophomore running back Di Andre Atwater leads the club with 383 yards on the ground, with Epperly a close second..

The Tigers may feast on the lowly Red defense, which surrenders almost 200 rushing yards per contest. Brown’s steady attack pushed around the Cornell defense for most of the day last weekend, running for 193 yards, though the Red did force a few momentous turnovers.

Senior linebacker and leading-tackler Brett Buehler surpassed 200 career tackles in the loss with 15 more. Senior defensive lineman Kevin Marchand recorded 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, while senior linebacker Tre’ Minor added nine stops, including a crucial one late.

However, the Red defense on the year has just five sacks and has allowed opponents to pile up 470.7 yards and score 36 points per game. The lone positive stat is 11 takeaways (almost two per game), altogether a picture that largely resembles the one from former head coach Kent Austin’s final Cornell campaign in 2012.

“We have older kids on defense, but it’s their first year of this new [3-4] scheme,” Archer said. “We’re putting systems in place and learning. … It’s about us, it’s about being able to correct our mistakes and put four quarters of football together.”

If the Red D struggles again, perhaps the Cornell offense can keep up with Princeton, though the Tigers have a solid defense ranked third in the Ivies. Junior linebacker Mike

Michelle Feldman / Staff PhotographerSophomore running back Luke Hagy ran for 70 yards last weekend.