Cornell has a chance to show its improvement in its final home game of the year Saturday.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assitant Photography Editor

Cornell has a chance to show its improvement in its final home game of the year Saturday.

November 9, 2018

COTTON | Continued Progression Means a Win vs. Dartmouth

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Upward trajectory?

That’s what you’ve been hearing over and over again if you’ve followed the Cornell football team during the past few years. The Red has improved from its 1-9 consecutive seasons in 2014-15 and is no longer a complete embarrassment on Saturday afternoons. The team finished 4-6 (2-5 Ivy) in 2016 and 3-7 (3-4) last season. Heading into this weekend’s matchup with Dartmouth, Cornell sits at 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the Ivy League.

So no, 2018 will not be Cornell’s first Ivy title in almost 30 years. But there’s still plenty to play for even after consecutive tough losses. After the two putrid seasons, Cornell has won two and three conference games in 2016 and 2017, respectively. So if head coach David Archer ’05 wants to be taken seriously when he speaks of his team’s improvements year after year, the Red has to do better this season.

Do the math yourself. There’s only one way to accomplish that goal — to go out there and win on Saturday.

“It would be huge,” Archer said. “Beating a team that’s ranked in the top 25  … I know we’ve gotten better and I know these seniors have helped make us better. Beating a team like Dartmouth is like validation of that.”

Saturday’s game aside, the 2018 team is not great. Offensively, the group has been inconsistent at best. Their M.O. is running the ball, but they have not had much success doing so in the previous two losses to Princeton and Penn. Outside of some big plays, the team has struggled to move the ball down the field throughout much of the season.

Ever since losing junior run-first quarterback Mike Catanese to injury in week four, the offense has been missing something. Call him a spark, a catalyst or just a key piece, but Catanese gave them something they don’t have right now. Senior quarterback Dalton Banks has had a less-than-stellar season under center with just seven touchdowns and nine interceptions through eight games.

On defense, the Red has struggled to stop the run in recent matchups. After shutting down top ball carriers in the early going, the tables seem to have turned. While not historically bad (as in the Princeton loss), the defensive front seven had no answers for Penn’s rushing attack in the decisive second half last Friday night. Dartmouth does nothing but run the ball, and they do it extremely well. The Cornell defense has to be ready.

Dartmouth (7-1, 4-1) is still in the hunt for a league title despite a hard-fought loss at Princeton last weekend. The Green is ranked in the FCS top 25 and boasts one of the country’s strongest defenses. As mentioned, the Green’s rushing attack has been nearly unstoppable, averaging 242.5 yards per game. Dartmouth has gotten the best of Cornell is nine straight seasons.

So no, on paper things are not looking very good. It’s yet another tough matchup on Cornell’s challenging schedule. But the Red has shown us — albeit infrequently — that it can compete if it actually executes its gameplan.

It was only a couple weeks back when the team still had its sights set on an Ivy title. Just because that dream is out the window does not mean this group can throw in the towel on the season. The play was lackluster as the night went on against Penn, and the coaching staff cannot let that happen again on Saturday.

“We like to say that we’ve changed the program in terms of the culture and everything, but it hasn’t really shown up yet in results,” said senior defensive lineman Cyrus Nolan of his class earlier in the week. “Going 5-5 is something that we’d really like to do.”

Nolan has been battling an injury for much of the season and actually had surgery on his hand Monday. But he’ll be playing with a cast Saturday against Dartmouth. He understands how critical a game it is — at least for the bigger picture.

Maybe the team is better than its 3-5 (2-3) record like much of players seem to think. Maybe it’s not. But it has a prime opportunity to prove something when Dartmouth comes to town on Senior Day. A win over a ranked opponent in a disappointing season would go a long way. So would a winning record in the Ivy League. That hasn’t happened since 2005, and the Red needs a win on Saturday to keep that hope alive.