Cornell football’s primary running back junior Chris Walker will miss the remainder of the 2017 season and “probably the first part of next year” after an injury sustained in the team’s 29-28 win over Princeton Saturday night, head coach David Archer ’05 said Tuesday afternoon.
With just over seven minutes played in the third quarter against the Tigers, Walker rushed the ball up the left side only to fall to the field with a non-contact injury and a buckling in his right knee. The junior immediately grabbed his right leg in pain and had to be helped off the field, making his touchdown earlier in the third quarter seem inconsequential.
With Walker out, Cornell loses its leader in all-purpose yards through seven games this season. An All-Ivy first-team selection in 2016, Walker has regressed in the 2017 campaign in terms of offensive production, averaging 30 fewer yards per game on the ground and two yards less per carry.
But what Walker lost on the ground he made up for in the air. Compared to the nine games he appeared in last season, he was averaging nine more yards in the air per game and hauled in four more receptions this season prior to the injury Saturday. He is the second-leading receiver on the team, averaging 9.3 yards per catch.
Walker was injured once before this season, exiting the 28-16 loss to Bucknell in the first quarter after taking a hard hit immediately following a 19-yard catch.
“It was devastating to lose Chris,” said senior tight end Hayes Nolte. “[But] we made the comeback [against Princeton] without Chris. We are a team with a lot of confidence. … Next man up.”
Cornell, a run-first offense which has attempted the most rushes in the Ivy League, will now need to rely on its depth to have a successful end of the season on the ground. Sophomore Harold Coles has shown signs that he is capable of taking on a larger role, evident in his team-leading 293 yards on 46 fewer attempts than Walker. Senior captain Jack Gellatly is having a career year with 329 all-purpose yards.
Both, however, have been injury-prone this season; Coles missed the entire Bucknell game with an ankle injury, while Gellatly only appeared briefly in the second half.
Archer also pointed to senior Josh Sweet as someone who may get more touches, as well as freshman S.K. Howard, who filled into the halfback role nicely against Bucknell when only he and Sweet were healthy enough to play.
The quarterback position, too, has become a pseudo-running back role for Cornell at times, especially when senior Jake Jatis is under center. Jatis is fourth on the team in rushing with 151 yards and tied with Walker for the lead in rushing touchdowns with three, including two against Harvard and one against Princeton.
“We’re going to have to lean on them a little bit more,” Archer said of replacing Walker’s playmaking. “We have to take Chris’ production and spread it out over everybody else.”