With a two-game win streak to open the season comes a new sense of confidence in the Cornell football locker room that seems to have been missing in years past.
“I think our confidence keeps increasing,” said senior captain and receiver Ben Rogers. “Obviously it’s been a little different than it has in the past couple years, which is great. If we can keep that rolling I think we’ll be in great shape”
Although the team knows most early losses during the 2015 season just slipped through its fingertips, actually winning these games has birthed a new spirit.
“Last year when we knew we could have won, it was like ‘we were right there, we could have won, we’re still a good team,’” said junior cornerback Jelani King. “We kind of knew that if we get a few more plays to go our way, a couple more receptions, a couple more touchdowns, we can surprise some people.”
Hoping not to get ahead of itself, the Red knows that while its winning streak is to be celebrated, the game against FCS Coaches Poll No. 25 Colgate this weekend will be a true test of the team’s abilities.
“It’s going to be a good barometer to see where we are as a team,” King said. “Right now people can say that ‘Oh Bucknell wasn’t that good, Yale wasn’t that good.’ We know Colgate is a really good team who has played a lot of other really good teams. It will be a good test to see where we are and help build our confidence going into the meat of our Ivy League schedule.”
So far this season, the Raiders are off to a 1-2 start, though one not indicative of the team’s capabilities. Senior quarterback Jake Melville is back with a vengeance after being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the FCS tournament.
So far this season, the six-foot-one New Jersey native has thrown six touchdowns, along with one rushing touchdown and 580 total yards. When paired with his shifty footwork, his rocket of an arm makes him a lethal centerpiece of any offense.
“You got to make sure you have somebody accounting for him and then somebody behind him because he can make a lot of people miss,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “He really beat Yale with his arm and beats a lot of people with his legs. You have to change up the look and try to confuse him a bit and get him off his spot. When he’s off his spot, don’t let him get out in the open field like a punt returner.”
This season has been a roller coaster for Melville. In his opener against Syracuse, he threw for 82 yards and one touchdown. The very next week, he exploded for for 355 yards and five touchdowns against Yale, then threw three interceptions and an abysmal 57 yards against No. 6/7 Richmond.
But when he’s hot, Melville is as dangerous as anyone. Last season, he cut Cornell’s secondary up with 257 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for an additional touchdown and 99 yards.
Melville is not the only component of Colgate’s squad Archer has been closely scouting. Colgate’s rush defense is resilient and solid, usually wreaking havoc on any tailback it faces. Against Yale, the Raiders held the Bulldogs’ rushers to 12 yards the entire game.
“They create a lot of negative yardage by blitzing at any time,” Archer said. “What you have to make sure is to have a hat-for-a-hat in the run game where you want to make sure you don’t call a play that is running into a blitz.”
In order to get around this problem, Archer knows that sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks — who has impressed in his two showings of varsity play — will be the point man once again on offense. However, controlling Colgate’s vicious run defense and keeping Banks safe will be a tad more difficult given the questionability of senior offensive lineman Alex Emanuels this upcoming weekend.
Banks’ handling of Colgate’s blitz-heavy defense in a pinch is one of the most important factors at play this game, but teammates — and especially his ever-important receiving core — know he is up to the task.
“He keeps getting better and better and hopefully he can keep that going,” Rogers said. “His decision making is awesome, which is obviously what you’d like to see. I think he’s proven that he can pretty much make any throw on the field, which as a receiver is so much fun to be able to open up the play book and know that if you win on your route, you’re gonna get the ball from Dalton.”
Although not an Ivy League game and arguably less important for the team’s season, the Red still knows that this game against Colgate is incredibly important looking forward, especially with Harvard on the horizon the following week.
“Colgate’s obviously a very good football team, we need to give them everything that we have, but obviously Harvard is looming in the background of that,” Rogers said. “Ivy League games carry a little bit more weight, obviously, but to be able to go into Colgate will be a really good test for us and hopefully prepare us well going into Harvard.”
Currently, Cornell football feels it is in an very good place, especially given that the team was projected to finish last in the Ivy League. For some, this ranking left a bitter taste in the mouth and incited a passion to prove doubters wrong.
“Some are just focused on what they have to do to execute, some are playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Archer said. “Either way, let’s just keep playing well.”
Along with playing well — getting off to the program’s best start since 2009 — the team has noticed a change in attitude from around campus. Hoping to keep the success going, King is living in the now, appreciating the support and love from the Cornell community, but knows that it has kept the motivation around the team high.
“People hadn’t been worried about the football team and people didn’t really care that you were on the football team,” he said. “Now, I walk around campus and people are like ‘Congratulations, great game.’ It makes you want to work harder.”
It all starts Saturday at 1 p.m., as the Red faces its undoubtedly toughest test of the short season just about 65 miles away from home.