The most anticipated game of the 2016 Ivy League season kicks off on Saturday in Cambridge. In a battle of the two remaining undefeated squads in the conference, Cornell and No. 22 Harvard will duke it out for the inside track to the Ivy crown as in-conference play heats up.
Few picked Cornell to upend Colgate last weekend, but the Red was able to do it, stunning the Raiders with a 23-point comeback. In order to stage a similar upset this weekend against a heavily-favored Crimson squad, Cornell will have to do three things.
Put pressure on Joe Viviano
Harvard quarterback Joe Viviano has proved to be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. Coming off a 15-for-21, three-touchdown performance against Georgetown, he currently leads the conference in completion percentage. Viviano is comfortable in the pocket and, thanks to the Crimson’s great pass protection, he usually has considerable time to make decisions and find his spots downfield.
Getting past Harvard’s dominant offensive line will likely be difficult for a Cornell defense that has the third fewest sacks in the league so far. While the Crimson graduated three first team All-Ivy offensive linemen, the team returns a pair of second team linemen. Cornell may be able to take advantage of the squad’s relative inexperience to get to Viviano.
If the Red can get Viviano out of his comfort zone and force some mistakes from the quarterback, Cornell’s strong secondary should be able to capitalize and get the ball back to the offense. Look to junior linebacker Kurt Frimel — first on the team in sacks — and sophomore defensive lineman Victor Olapinsin — first on the defensive line in tackles for loss — to provide the much needed pressure on Viviano
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Last week against Colgate, sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks connected with 10 different players, seven of whom made multiple catches. Banks has spoken highly of his receivers all year, praising their versatility and diverse skillsets.
With wideout weapons like junior James Hubbard, speedsters like senior Marshall Deutz, jumpball receivers like senior Brady Malone and catch-and-run tailbacks like Josh Sweet, Banks has a litany of solid options to choose from on each passing play. Having so many receivers at his disposal was a big reason why Banks was able to pass for the eighth-most yards in program history last week.
If Banks can continue to utilize the diverse group of receivers, he’ll likely find success against the Crimson’s defense.
Cornell has had two away games so far this year and in both of them — last Saturday’s defeat of Colgate and the opening day win over Bucknell — the squad made the trip in one day. The program arrived at the field the day of, which posed a difficult challenge of finding a rhythm early on.
That was evident in both games. The Bison took a 10-0 lead before Cornell turned on the gas. Last weekend, the Raiders scored on their very first snap and built a 21-point lead before the men of the football team had even realized what happened. While Cornell eventually came away with the win in both games, starting slow could doom the team against a Harvard squad adverse to squandering leads.
Arriving the day before the actual matchup may prove advantageous to the team’s start. It gives the men a day to get used to the away site and relax heading into the game. That change in timeline may be the difference between starting sluggish and jumping out to an early lead.