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Heading into the 2017 football season with high hopes, Cornell football kicks things off with what will be the hardest matchup on its schedule, a road game at Delaware. That’s one hell of a way to open up the year.
Saturday’s game will mark the first ever meeting between the two teams though they are two of the oldest programs in college football. Here are three keys for the Red to remain competitive with Delaware.
Play Mistake-Free Football
This is an easy one. While it is not clear exactly what to expect from Cornell, Delaware is a strong favorite going into the contest with two regular season games already under its belt. The best way to erase any hopes of an upset? Mistakes.
It’s game number one of 10, and without a true preseason, Cornell is more than likely going to commit its fair share of mistakes — mental, physical, you name it. But if the team wants to keep up with the Blue Hens, it will have to find ways to minimize those mistakes.
Last season, the Red commited a comedic amount of penalties in its opening matchup at Bucknell — three on the first drive and 11 overall — but the group eventually settled down and won 24-16.
“That game speed, we have not seen yet, and they have, so it’s going to take a little bit,” said head coach David Archer ’05 of potential jitters. “We have to keep pressing the ‘poise’ button early in the game.”
Against a tough team, however, those mistakes could prove insurmountable. Limiting procedural penalties, turnovers, blown coverages and miscommunications is priority number one come Saturday if the Red wants a shot at the upset.
Establish the Run Early
Although Cornell finished last in the league in rushing last season, the backfield is filled with talent, especially in the form of junior Chris Walker. Walker averaged over five yards per carry last season and will be the team’s featured back in 2017.
Walker won’t do it alone, however, as senior captain Jack Gellatly and junior J.D. PicKell will join the mix as well. Running the ball well is always critical on the road, especially against a difficult opponent. Keeping Delaware’s offense on the sidelines and its fans at bay will require the Red to eat up some clock during its offensive possessions. The best way to do this is by establishing the run early and taking your sweet time play after play.
“They want to keep your offense off the field,” Archer said of Delaware. “Offensively you have to be conscious of that. You’ve got to make your possessions count.”
Even if Cornell is hoping for an up-tempo offense this season, Saturday is not the best time to try it out. Quick three-and-outs will doom their chances, so the Red should run the ball at least as much as it passes in the first several series of the game.
Limit Delaware’s Ground Game
Thomas Jefferson — no, not the third president — is Delaware’s starting running back, and the redshirt junior is a serious threat out of the backfield. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Jefferson relies primarily on his speed and shiftiness to make defenders miss, but he has the size to break some tackles as well. Fellow junior Kareem Williams has gotten about a third of the carries so far and takes Jefferson’s place regularly throughout games. Quarterback Joe Walker is an able runner as well, having run the ball over 20 times in the first two games.
So why does all of this matter? Well, Cornell’s run defense was far and away its weakest link in 2016, finishing a distant eighth in the league. The Red had trouble stopping just about anyone on the ground. With several months to work on its run defense, Cornell had better hope its defensive unit is ready to go. If not, Jefferson and co. will run all over the Red come Saturday.