Who saw that one coming?
Winless on the season entering a matchup against the preseason Ivy League favorite, Cornell football’s victory over Harvard Saturday was nothing short of shocking.
Now, coming off of that win — its first over Harvard in 12 years — it is easy to look past this Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Bucknell. The Red topped Bucknell last year and is riding a high after the huge upset, but it will need to play its A-game once again in order to top the Bison.
Here are three keys to a Cornell win Saturday afternoon.
Get on the board quickly
When you do something you haven’t done in over a decade on the football field, a little bit of a hangover the next game is to be expected. Not only does this game lack the attention of a Harvard game, but it’s an out of league contest as well. But if Cornell wants to keep the ball rolling ahead of its final five regular season games of the season (all against Ivy teams), a victory Saturday is very important.
The best way to maintain a high level of intensity is to make a big play early — a long pass, a touchdown or a defensive turnover. If the Red can do this and avoid the letdown, the group should be in good shape against a Bucknell team that has struggled in 2017. The onus is on junior quarterback Dalton Banks not to throw an early interception and on the entire defense to hold up in the early portions of the game.
Keep up the pressure from the defensive front four
Lacking experience ahead of the 2017 season, the Cornell defensive line has been a pleasant surprise for head coach David Archer ’05 and Co. The unit has propelled the Red to third in the Ivy League in sacks with 14, five of which came last weekend against Harvard. What’s more, the front four has gotten home without relying on additional pressure from the secondary (safety or corner blitzes, for example). That combination has Cornell’s defense well ahead of the pack in pass defense, yielding just over 150 yards per game.
Bucknell’s offense is nothing to write home about, picking up just 254 yards per game, and Cornell matches up nicely against them. If the Red’s front four can pressure Bucknell’s two quarterbacks (who have roughly split time thus far), the team should be able to limit the Bison come Saturday. Bucknell has given up 16 sacks through five games, so look for Cornell — and reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week Cyrus Nolan — to further exploit that.
Run, run, run
Whether it’s on offense or defense, the running game has not been kind to Cornell. Until last weekend, that is.
Harvard brought its vaunted number one run-defense into Ithaca only to be torched by a trio of junior Chris Walker, sophomore Harold Coles and senior captain Jack Gellatly. The Red amassed a season-high 233 yards rushing, and backup quarterback Jake Jatis added two scores on the ground that proved to be the difference. Cornell limited Harvard to just 62 yards on 29 rushes and had several key stops in short yardage situations.
This week, the Red should focus on the run once again. Walker must be involved early and often, especially since the status of the other two primary rushers is unclear. Bucknell’s run defense is solid, but nothing compared to that of Harvard, and clearly that was not an issue. An effective running game — as always — will take some pressure off Banks and give him more time to throw in passing situations. In goal line situations, why not bring Jatis back in the game? It’s worked twice already, it can work again.