Boris Tsang/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

After Cornell trounced undefeated Sacred Heart to notch its first win of the season, columnist Charles Cotton offers his thoughts on how the Red might finally get on a hot streak.

September 30, 2018

COTTON | A Winning Formula

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Now that’s more like it.

Looking for its first win of the season, Cornell football got off to a great start Saturday afternoon and never looked back, dominating previously unbeaten Sacred Heart, 43-24. The Red just might have found its M.O. in the process.

Successful football teams nearly always do two things: establish the run on offense and stop the run on defense. As the 2018 season continues to unfold, the Red is proving to be more and more capable at both.

“If we establish the run, limit the run, and don’t give it away,” said head coach David Archer ’05, “we can probably be competitive in every game.” And that’s just what happened.

Cornell faced top-tier runners in each of the last two contests and just about shut them both down. Last week, it was Yale’s reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Zane Dudek accounting for just 33 yards on 13 carries. Saturday it was Sacred Heart’s Jordan Meachum gaining a mere 44 yards on 15 attempts. Entering the game, Meachum had been averaging 128.7 yards per game.

“There’s always that emphasis for our front seven to stop the run,” said junior cornerback David Jones. “It’s something we’re starting to do much better now.”

On the other side of the ball, the Red built on last week’s success in the ground game. Junior Harold Coles has emerged as the leader out of the backfield and led the way once again Saturday with 121 yards and a touchdown on just eight rushing attempts.

But joining Coles throughout the day were fellow backs Jake Derderian, S.K. Howard and J.D. PicKell — all of whom added major contributions in the victory. Even senior quarterback Dalton Banks ran the ball seven times and scored the team’s first offensive touchdown on a seven-yard run. By the final buzzer, the team had amassed 263 rushing yards.

“Anybody that touches the ball can take it all the way,” said Coles of his fellow running backs. “That’s something not a lot of teams have, and it’s awesome to have that depth.”

In addition to the running backs, the Red’s offensive line deserves its fair share of the credit. After an up-and-down campaign last season, the veteran group has used another year of experience to grow into one of the team’s best assets. Sacred Heart showed several different looks defensively, but time and again the Cornell blockers picked up blitzes and opened up holes for the runners, making long runs look easy.

“I literally had to do nothing for that touchdown,” Coles said of his 85-yard score in the first half. “The line made a perfect hole and all I’ve got to do is run as fast as I can.”

Although the Red did have more success in the passing game Saturday than in prior weeks, throwing the ball downfield is not the answer for this team. Without a ton of true playmakers at wide receiver and an offensive line better equipped to run block than to pass protect, Cornell should continue to shift its focus toward the ground game. Incorporating run-first quarterback Mike Catanese into the game plan as needed can provide another spark as well.

Saturday went about as well as anyone could have hoped — and sure, you can call blowing out a 3-0 Sacred Heart team a statement win if you’d like. But even if the Red doesn’t take the ball away three times or have as much success in the return game, the future could be looking up.

If Cornell can establish the run and stop capable opposing rushers — of which there are many in the Ivy League — this weekend will not be the last time the Red celebrates a well-earned victory.

“Today’s how I pictured Cornell football for a long time,” said Archer. “Being able to just show up, run the football and we’re going to wear you out.”

Same time, same place, same formula next week against Harvard.