After a scorching start to the season, Cornell football has since cooled off, losing two straight games to top opponents. With the Ivy League portion of the Red’s schedule beginning, it is particularly important for Cornell to reverse its downward slide to move back up in the conference rankings.
The Red begins a five-game stretch of all Ivy League games on Saturday against Brown. The Bears have had Cornell’s number in recent years, winning 13 of the the teams’ previous 15 matchups, including wins in each of the past eight years. If Cornell can do the following three things, the men of the football team may be able to end the streak and continue their hope of being crowned Ivy League champions.
Continue the turnover storm
Last week against Sacred Heart, the Red totaled five takeaways — more than Columbia has had all year. Many of these turnovers left the team with great field position and, although the comeback fell short, the takeaways allowed Cornell to score and get back into the game. The defense’s tendency to force turnovers at the most opportune moments has been a hallmark of this Cornell team that has so far surprised many in the Ivy League.
The Red’s defense is currently first in the league in turnovers forced per game. Halfway through the season, the squad has 10 interceptions, six more than the team had all of last season. The Bears are currently third in the league in most turnovers. If Cornell can capitalize on this weakness, the Red can keep Brown’s offense off the field.
Look to the ground game for yardage
Cornell rushed for a season-high 257 yards against Sacred Heart, thanks to a career day from sophomore running back J.D. PicKell, who ended with 95 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks and junior running back Jack Gellatly also had more than 75 yards on the ground.
With Gellatly out for three to five weeks with a broken hand and the status of sophomore running back and current leading rusher Chris Walker uncertain, the Red will look to PicKell and junior running back Josh Sweet to pick up the majority of the carries against Brown’s third-ranked rush defense.
The Bears have showed they’re one of the best teams against the pass in the Ivy League. Brown ranks first in passing yards against in the conference. Because of this and Banks recent efficiency struggles under center — he has a completion percentage of just 44 percent in the team’s two losses — the Red will likely rely on the its versatile rushing attack to score on the Bears.
Protect the quarterback
Brown boasts the second most sacks in the league so far this season. Against Harvard’s usually stalwart offensive line, the Bears sacked Crimson quarterback Joe Viviano three times. The Red struggled to protect Banks last week, giving up five sacks on the day to Sacred Heart’s blitz-heavy defensive schemes.
The offensive line was terrific last Saturday, creating holes for running backs all game, but the pass protection could have been tightened up. These struggles occurred not only because the five offensive linemen were beaten, but also because of overall poor pass protection from the offense — two of the sacks can be chalked up to running backs missing their man on pass protection.
If the Red can defuse Brown’s aggressive pass rush, Banks will have more time in the pocket to make good decisions downfield. This will improve his aforementioned struggles with efficiency and likely improve nearly every facet of the team’s offense.