Cornell football head coach David Archer ’05 really wants to beat Harvard — maybe too much.
A season ago, a red-hot Cornell team was 3-0 heading into its game against the Crimson, which it then lost, 29-13, on the road. Now, still searching for the win column for the first time in 2017, the Red is confident despite its disappointing start heading into this year’s matchup with the Crimson Saturday at Schoellkopf.
“I want to win so freaking bad. I’m all about that every play at a time,” Archer said. “These guys will tell you that, [but] I want to win so bad, probably too much. It’s like, chill out, maybe go one play at a time, because if I start to think like that I won’t sleep.”
This year, the Red will have some extra motivation. It looks to beat Harvard for the first time in 12 years; it’s still vying for the first win of the season; and it hopes to avenge last year’s loss now in the friendly confines of Schoellkopf.
Cornell offensive coordinator Joe Villapiano, in his first year with the team, last served as a wide receivers coach at Harvard for 12 years. Archer said Villapiano will be extra pumped for the matchup, but he is not alone in his personal pursuit to upend the Crimson.
“I turned down Harvard, I still kept my likely letter. [Junior quarterback Dalton] Banks turned down Harvard,” Archer said, highlighting the added excitement that comes with this rivalry matchup.
Only this year, Cornell enters Harvard Week winless as opposed to undefeated.
Despite that, “everybody’s still really excited to keep playing, and our motivation has never been higher,” said senior captain and safety Nick Gesualdi. “We’re not down at all. In the end we’re only 0-1 in the Ivy League and the Ivy League is turned upside-down right now. So we still have all the confidence in the world moving forward that we have a good chance.”
Looking for its first win of the season, the Red faces a tall task in Harvard, whose powerful offense has outscored opponents, 86-30, over its last two games. Running back Charlie Booker III leads the way with 281 rushing yards through three games and receiver Adam Scott has 152 yards through the air. The Red will also have to prepare for the Crimson’s dual-threat quarterback system, as Joe Viviano and Jake Smith see around equal game action.
The Crimson is coming off a 41-2 shellacking of Georgetown last week and is 1-0 in the Ivy League after a win against Brown. Its only loss came in its season-opener — an upset loss to Rhode Island.
“If you want to be involved in the Ivy League race in football, you have to beat Harvard. Period,” Archer said. “That’s the name of the game.”
“It’s Harvard, they’re always solid,” Gesualdi added. “We’re excited to step up to the challenge.”
Eleven turnovers, including nine interceptions from quarterback Dalton Banks, have plagued the Red’s first three games, impeding the success of an otherwise efficient offense. Especially with its credo of playing smart football, that does not fly at Cornell.
“I have this sign about ‘take care of the ball’ all over the office, and we are last in the country in giveaways or whatever it is,” Archer said of his team’s turnover issues. “We have to take care of the ball and that’s a total organization approach. [We have] to make sure we are getting the thing we execute best rocking and rolling, making the great decisions and tucking it away when we have it.”
After watching his offensive line struggle to protect Banks and open holes for tailbacks, Archer said he plans to shake things up against Harvard in an effort to “dictate what they’ll give us in certain formations that will make the decision making faster.” With that, the team will trot out its fourth offensive lineup in as many games, hoping to improve on its 17 sacks already allowed — 10 more than at this point in 2016.
Banks, sacked nine times behind the porous line, threw four interceptions against Colgate last week. But he knows that in order to lower both those numbers, it is going to take a short memory.
“I forced a few throws, I was quick on a few things. Overall, they’re fixable mistakes, nothing I’m worried about,” Banks said. “I can’t really think about them going forward. I just know I’ve got to make my reads and not force throws and we’ll be fine going forward. … That’s not really who we are as an offense so I think we’ll be just fine going forward.”
Gesualdi and the Cornell defense are coming off a game where they held Colgate to 270 yards of total offense, the best mark the Red has put up since 2009. Cornell will need another lockdown defensive performance to slow down Harvard’s high-power offense, led by Booker, who has two touchdowns in each of his last two games.
This weekend and going forward, Cornell’s offense will be without a key player, freshman wide receiver Eric Gallman. The team leader in receptions who set a single-game freshman receiving record against Yale is out for the season with an ankle injury sustained in that game.
Difficult as the first few weeks of the season have been, the Red does not doubt its ability to turn things around, especially given the familiarity of a 0-3 start from years past.
“It’s a situation we’ve been in before. … We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves, we’re taking it one week at a time,” Gesualdi said. “It really helps that I can speak to the team and tell them that we’re only 0-1 in the Ivy League … it’s still anybody’s league, so we’re excited to keep going. There’s no loss in confidence at all.”
The Red takes on Harvard at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Schoellkopf.