Harvard is a perennial powerhouse in the Ivy League, so it was a shock when the Crimson was one of only two teams in the league to open the 2017 season with a 17-10 loss at Rhode Island. But Harvard has been on a roll since then, with wins over Brown 45-28 and Georgetown 41-2.
For a Cornell team that’s still searching for its first victory of the season, welcoming Harvard to Schoellkopf will be no small task. The Red will have to play a nearly-perfect game to take down the Crimson, starting with these three keys:
Get the Ball Out Quickly
Despite only being three games into the season, junior quarterback Dalton Banks has been taking a visible beating. Banks left the Yale game limping, while Colgate sacked him eight times last week in the Red’s home opener, bringing the season total up to 17.
In addition to the sheer physical toll, the pressure has been detrimental to an offense that has been unable to keep a hold of the ball. Banks has had a multi-interception game in each of the first three games this season, bringing his season total up to nine. While some of the interceptions came from tipped balls, others have come from a lack of time in the pocket, with Banks acknowledging that a few of these were “forced.”
A quick way to fix both of these issues is to simply get the ball out quickly. Head coach David Archer ’05 said that the team will once again rearrange the offensive line, bringing in the fourth combination in just as many games. Facing a stout Crimson defensive-line which has already gotten to opposing quarterbacks 11 times could be the toughest challenge for this young offensive line that has yet to find its groove. If the team gets the ball out of Banks’ hands quickly, the team not only limits the risk of Banks getting hit, but also takes some pressure off an offensive line still trying to figure things out.
The Red offense has shown signs of being able to move the ball. However, whether because of sacks or penalties, drives always seem to come to a standstill. The offense has only successfully moved the chains on 18 of its 47 third downs — a measly 38 percent conversion rate — and have only gone 4 for 11 on fourth down.
Cornell has also gotten in the red zone a paltry nine times all year, and has converted on four of those nine times with three touchdowns and one field goal. To further add salt in the wound, the Red only averages 15 points a game.
Going up against a Harvard team averaging 32 points a game, coming away from drives empty handed immediately puts the team in danger. Cornell has to be able to keep the chains moving, drive its way into the redzone and punch it in to have any hope of keeping up with a potent Harvard offense.
Come Out of the Gates Firing
Harvard is a team that does its damage on the ground, averaging 194 yards per game. And of the nine offensive touchdowns the Crimson has scored, seven of those have been rushing touchdowns.
Harvard also isn’t one to stray from its gameplan. Even in its 17-10 loss to Rhode Island, Harvard stayed on the ground, rushing for 206 yards on the ground, compared to 192 through the air. Facing a Cornell team that gives up 239 rushing yards a game, it seems probable that Harvard will have a clinic on the ground.
Cornell has twice headed into the locker room at halftime scoreless, and against Harvard, trying to play comeback will be nearly impossible. The Red cannot afford wait a whole half before clicking on offense, and however the team needs to do it, it needs to find its fire in the first half.
In addition, it’s unreasonable to expect the Cornell defense to slow down Harvard’s rushing attack. The only way that Cornell can keep up with Harvard is if it turns the game into a track meet, getting on the board quickly and often.