Jason Ben Nathan | Sun Senior Photographer

Cornell will need a strong performance from Josh Sweet and the rest of the running back quartet to beat Bucknell Saturday.

September 15, 2016

Three Keys to a Cornell Football Victory Over Bucknell

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Cornell football has an opportunity to redeem itself after last year’s end-of-game collapse against Bucknell.

Just like last season, the Red opens its season against the Bison, although this time Cornell will be traveling for the game. For the Red to come back to Ithaca with a victory, Cornell has to do three things particularly well.

Limit turnovers

The Bison opened up this season on Sept. 3 with a 26-10 victory over Marist. The defense led the way for Bucknell, totaling six turnovers — four interceptions and two fumbles — in the game. Three of Bucknell’s Mike White’s four interceptions came in straight drives.

Last season against Bucknell, Cornell’s then-junior quarterback Robert Somborn was intercepted just once, but it came at a critical part of the game with the Red facing a three-point deficit with under two minutes to go. With a new quarterback — sophomore Dalton Banks — who has no in-game regular season experience at the helm for Cornell, the Red will have to limit its turnovers to get on track for the rest of the game.

Find a rhythm for the four running backs

The most interesting position moving into this season for Cornell is running back. Following the graduation of Luke Hagy ’16, head coach David Archer ’05 is going to use a quartet of tailbacks this season. Last year, there were flashes of a running back rotation when Hagy went down with a concussion midseason, but as a whole, Hagy was the rock in the backfield.

Against Brown in 2015, Cornell used three backs — Jack Gellatly, Josh Sweet and Dane Brown — to amass 260 yards on the ground. The effective run game opened up the passing game and Somborn was able to throw for three touchdowns. If the Red can establish the run early, Banks could find success throwing downfield later in the game.

Shut down the Bison’s passing attack

Last year’s aerial defense for Cornell ranked third in the Ivy League. Led by former rookie of the year Nick Gesualdi and last year’s breakout star Sean Scullen, the secondary has a tall task in order to slow down Bucknell’s quarterback RJ Nitti, who is questionable for Saturday’s game after suffering an injury last week.

A year ago, Nitti struggled against the Red for most of the game, passing for just 174 yards. But he made an impact when it mattered. His fourth quarter performance of 68 yards shocked Cornell in its Homecoming game. If Nitti is healthy, the Red’s secondary has to be ready to contain him.