Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Red struggled mightily against Princeton's #1 FCS ranked offense and its stingy defense.

October 28, 2018

COTTON | As Bad as it Gets

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Cornell football was certainly not the consensus pick to beat an undefeated, nationally-ranked Princeton team on the road. The Tigers boasted the FCS’s top offense, one of the best defenses and quarterback John Lovett and co. had blown out nearly every opponent coming into Saturday’s contest.

But this was embarrassing. The 66-0 drubbing is one for both teams’ record books, as the Red suffered its most lopsided loss since 1890.

After last week’s victory over Brown, Cornell sat just one game behind both Princeton and Dartmouth in the Ivy League race. With two of its final four games against the league leaders, the Red was in striking distance. Head coach David Archer ’05 and his team were confident all week and knew, or at least thought, that they could compete with a dominant Princeton team. After all, they had earned a thrilling upset win over the Tigers just last season.

“Yes,” answered Archer when asked if his group of guys could play with the Tigers. “I think the road games at Delaware and Colgate help us. This will be the third time we go on the road against a top-25 team.”

Yet, just as in the one-sided losses to Delaware (27-10) and Colgate (31-0), the Red showed us that it simply cannot compete with top-tier opponents.

After Cornell’s seemingly promising opening drive ended in a failed fourth down attempt, the game began to spiral out of hand at record-breaking pace. A combination of three interceptions in a span of four drives from senior quarterback Dalton Banks and a miscue on special teams put the game out of reach not long after it started. Less than a minute into the second quarter, the Tigers had already built a 28-0 lead.

“Things snowballed on us there, and it was hard to recover,” Archer said after the game.

The only chance Cornell had was to keep the explosive Princeton offense off the field for large portions of the game. But the oft-dependable ground game failed wholeheartedly to accomplish its goal, as junior running back Harold Coles could not get anything going and finished with 42 yards on 12 carries. Neither could Banks nor anyone else, and the interceptions kept giving Princeton short fields to work with. At the end of the day, the offense had been shut out for the second time in three weeks.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was even worse. The Cornell defense should have known what to expect with Princeton’s impressive running game, but they still had no answers from the beginning. The Tigers finished the game with an unfathomable 358 rushing yards, including seven touchdowns on the ground.

There’s no reason to think effort was an issue given the circumstances surrounding the matchup, but the defense made it far too easy for Lovett, running back Charlie Volker and just about anyone who Princeton head coach Bob Surace decided to put in the game. It was not a matter of long, explosive plays or 75-yard touchdown runs either. Princeton’s offense marched methodically down the field time and again and capped drives with short, essentially unchallenged runs. The Red lost by 66 points, and the Princeton starters hardly played in the second half.

Coming on in relief already down 45-0, sophomore quarterback Richie Kenney had a chance to turn some heads against Princeton’s backups, but he too struggled and completed just five passes for 34 yards. It was one of those days.

“From the top down we didn’t execute and play our game,” Archer said.

He’s right. Everyone is accountable for this one. Archer, Banks, Coles, the defensive front seven, everyone.

Archer deserves credit for making Cornell a respectable team after consecutive 1-9 seasons not too long ago. And for the second year in a row, the Red was in the mix for the Ivy title more than halfway into the season.

There was nothing to respect on Saturday, though.