NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Cornell football spent the week of practice confident its preparation for a “pass-first” Yale offense would serve it well at the Yale Bowl Saturday.
But it was not Yale’s talented sophomore quarterback Kurt Rawlings that made the Red pay in the two teams’ Ivy opener. Rather it was the ground game that decimated Cornell defense, now leaving a rush-defense searching for answers after continuous subpar showings.
Although not evident from the scoreboard, the Red outplayed Yale for much of the first half and kept the running attack in check. But the second 30 minutes brought about a markedly different ballgame, and the Bulldogs ended the afternoon with a staggering 342 yards of rushing offense after just 55 in the first half. Yale threw the ball just 17 times compared to 39 rushing attempts.
“I think it was holding up early and then they got a couple of explosive plays,” said head coach David Archer ’05 of his team’s run defense. “We didn’t execute, and then we missed some tackles.”
The Red opened up the game with some solid defensive series, but as the contest went on, both of Yale’s featured backs, Deshawn Salter and Zane Dudek, took control. Each ended the day with over 120 yards, and the Red looked lost trying to stop them in the second half, giving up big play after big play.
“I think it comes down to the players not making the plays,” said junior linebacker Reis Seggebruch. “The coaches put us in the right places … we missed a ton of tackles today, and we’ve got to stop that obviously. Our defense came out and played a good first half, but like last week we didn’t finish.”
Gaping holes and missed tackles have become all too familiar for this Cornell team. Last year, the Red gave up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, putting them in last in the Ivy League by a whole 50 yards. At Delaware, Cornell had trouble with a slew of running backs and a dual-threat QB, yielding another 225 on the ground in its one-sided, 41-14 loss.
Stopping the run is one of the fundamental marks of a strong defensive unit, so if the run defense fails to take some considerable steps forward, the team knows it could be in some serious trouble.
“It’s huge,” Archer said of his team’s need to improve the run defense. “I’ve seen it improve a little. I thought we really held them in the first half. I thought our run defense was actually pretty good last week. I have seen it improve, but the stats don’t show it.”
“We’ve just got to go back to making sure that we make the tackles, and we make sure we’re sound in our gaps,” he added.