With the 2019 football season set to kick off Sept. 21, The Sun’s football writers took a look at what to expect as the Red takes the field for its 132nd season. Cornell finished 3-7 last year in a season that included a pair of single-digit Ivy League losses and wins over Brown and Harvard.
What will Cornell’s record be?
Raphy Gendler, Sun Sports Editor: 4-6
David Archer ’05 is taking a restructured schematic approach into 2019 to better set up his players for success down the stretch against tough Ivy League opponents. The team has a lot to prove in order to convince us it’s better than last year’s 3-7 squad. Do junior Richie Kenney and senior Mike Catanese have what it takes to lead the offense? Can the linebacking corps hold its own without Reis Seggebruch ’19 and other graduates? Last year’s 3-7 was a few seconds or a couple breaks from being 4-6 or 5-5. The Red’s capability — or inability — to win close games will be the difference in 2019.
Christina Bulkeley, Sun Assistant Sports Editor: 3-7
Even with Archer’s increased focus on strategy going into this season, uncertainties with the team — such as that at quarterback — make me skeptical that the squad will make significant improvements over last season. Archer seems to have changed his approach to how his team will play the game, which is promising, but is it going to be enough to help the Red improve its record? Maybe. But I wouldn’t bank on it.
Luke Pichini, Sun Staff Writer: 4-6
Indeed, Archer’s new schemes will likely fuel some early-season success against new non-conference opponents such as Marist and Georgetown, but will it yield the same results later in the season against the steeper competition that the Ivy League presents? Should that come to fruition, the Red could experience a breakthrough season. More likely than not, though, Cornell will only improve upon last year’s three-win season by a single game. One must keep in mind that Archer’s squads have struggled massively down the stretch, posting 0-3 and 0-4 marks to close the season in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Who do you anticipate being a key player on offense?
R.G.: Harold Coles
Too easy: Coles is Cornell’s best player, and the Red’s offense will have to run through him, for better or for worse. The senior running back and reigning All-Ivy second-team selection had 10 touchdowns and over 1,000 total yards last season. Cornell’s schemes on offense will need to get Coles 15 or 20 touches a game and figure out ways to get the dynamic runner the ball in space. Coles will need to hit double-digit touchdowns and 1,000-plus yards again for Cornell to sport an effective offense.
L.P.: Harold Coles
With three-year starter Dalton Banks no longer on the roster, the quarterback position will not be as stable as it has been in the past couple years. Enter Coles as the centerpiece of the Cornell offense. Last year, the Erie, Pennsylvania native accounted for nearly half of the team’s 1,561 rushing yards by carving up opponents for 710 yards on the ground. Plus, Coles cemented his versatility by establishing himself as a pass-catching threat, totalling 293 yards on 28 receptions. Expect Coles to soak up touches as the Red’s primary offensive weapon.
C.B.: Harold Coles
You’ve heard it all already — going into the 2019 season, this isn’t a question that will generate any other answer. The Cornell offense isn’t going anywhere without Coles.
Who is going to be a key player on defense?
R.G.: David Jones
A senior cornerback, Jones is one of Cornell’s best playmakers on both defense and special teams. The Sugar Land, Texas native had three interceptions and was named an All-Ivy second team corner. If Jones can put together a few games like his one at home against Sacred Heart last season — a pick-six, another interception and a big punt return to set up a score — he’ll be a difference-maker in two of the game’s three phases. He’ll also be expected to match up with and try to slow down some of the Ivy League’s best skill players.
L.P.: Jelani Taylor
Following captain Reis Seggebruch’s ’19 graduation, Jelani Taylor assumes the role as the main leader of the defense. The senior is more than capable of handling this task as he boasts impressive on-field production. In 2018, Taylor totalled 72 tackles and nine pass breakups, both of which led the team. Ever since his emergence in the back-half of 2017, Taylor has been a core piece for the Red defense, and the team will need him more than ever this season to step up in the face of lost production.
C.B.: David Jones
Archer has a lot of faith in Jones, going so far as saying he’s at the top of the Ivy League when it comes to players at his position. He’s going to need to be someone that the Red can rely on and match the level of play we saw last year in order for the team to achieve success.
What will be an X-factor this season?
L.P.: The offensive line
Cornell’s line can easily break or make its season. If the unit fails to hold up after the graduation of four seniors, it will be a long and painful year for the Red offense. Coles will find himself consistently running into a swarm of defenders, and the quarterback combination of Kenney and Catanese will have little time to distribute the ball. The line does feature senior captain George Holm III at left tackle and Nick Busher, who started at left guard for the last eight games. But besides those two, the rest of the unit is quite inexperienced. The remaining positions will be filled by Jack Burns, Hunter Nourzad, Zach Rode, Robert Fatovic — all of whom are sophomores.
Whether the team’s offensive playmakers can stay on the field will determine whether we see success or a total mess this season when Cornell has the ball. Junior tight end John Fitzgerald was the team’s leading receiver through two games last year before suffering a season-ending injury. Catanese added a spark and a couple big-time touchdowns before missing the second half. Junior receiver Eric Gallman missed almost his entire freshman year with an injury before having an up-and-down sophomore campaign. If these three pieces can stay on the field and produce consistently, Cornell’s offense will be good enough to compete in the Ivy League.
C.B.: Pulling off close games
Last year, Cornell lost two games by deficits in the single digits; tough breaks seemed abundant for the Red. The team needs to work on not only staying in its games but also on pulling off the moves necessary to score those extra couple points — with Archer’s talks of new, advanced strategy this season, maybe that will be the marginal difference. The team will take points wherever it can get them to put it over the top.
What is something you’re paying extra close attention to this season?
C.B.: Archer’s updated approach to the game
Archer said that in the past, his style was simply to be better than the other team. He counted on his players simply outplaying their opponents. This approach, suffice to say, has not been successful. I’m going to be watching how Cornell puts in the extra effort to run tricky plays and outsmart its opponents. The Red needs to do more than play better — it needs to start playing smarter.
R.G.: The Sept. 28 game at Yale
Cornell has been so close against the Bulldogs in their meetings each of the last two seasons, and gets a crack at the preseason favorite in its first Ivy game of 2019. If Cornell can pull off the upset road victory by slowing down quarterback Kurt Rawlings and Yale’s high-powered offense, it will set the Red up for a momentum-creating winning streak with a winnable Homecoming game against Georgetown in Ithaca the following weekend.
L.P.: How Cornell performs in the latter stages of the season
As I mentioned before, Cornell has gone winless over its final few games each of the past two seasons. Obviously, these marks are influenced by the fact that these later games pit Cornell against Ivy League foes who present a far greater challenge than non-conference opponents. But still, Cornell has notched a number of Ivy wins in the earlier stages of the season while failing to replicate those in October or November. The schedule remains tough as the Red faces the likes of Princeton, Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia to close out the season. All of those aforementioned opponents defeated Cornell last year.
Complete the sentence: Cornell will achieve its first winning season since 2004 if…
R.G.: it can be a second-half team.
Cornell has struggled down the stretch of close games and — more importantly — in the final weeks of recent seasons. The Red finished 2018 with four straight losses and ended and 2017 with 0-3 in its final three contests. If the Red has any hope of achieving a winning mark, it needs to improve as the season goes on and play its best football in November. Past seasons have seen Cornell inspire a bit of hope in September and October before crashing back down to earth and limping through the finish line. On paper, Cornell doesn’t have a great chance against Yale, Princeton and other tough Ivy opponents. The Red’s only chance is improving as the season goes on and being able to compete once opponents have film of what works.
C.B.: It sticks to its new plans.
Archer is promising innovation going into this season, and without it, the team isn’t going to finish above .500. The Red will need to stand by its improved tactics and learn to make them work for the team. Archer knows that his old ways didn’t work, and he is determined to make some changes. In addition to just the on-the-field plans, he’s making himself as accessible as possible to his players by establishing a player leadership cabinet, exemplifying his dedication to figuring out what works for his team and the individuals on it. If the team can go all-in on its promises to really switch things up, a winning season could be in the cards.
L.P.: Archer’s new schemes allow the team to effectively employ a ground-and-pound attack.
The offense will run through Coles, but his success is not only dependent on Archer’s new schemes, but the quarterbacks and offensive line that play in front of him. If any of them struggle, the Red’s offense will be stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, the defense needs to make a marked improvement. While the secondary has played fairly well over the past couple years, the defensive line and linebackers need to step up to generate more pressure and halt opposing ground games. In order to reach the six-win mark, the Red would likely need to notch at least two non-conference victories along with four Ivy wins — a tall task for a team that has only reached three Ivy victories once in Archer’s six-year tenure.