For the opening game in both of its last two seasons, Cornell has had the same nearly impossible task: a road trip to national powerhouse Delaware.
The Blue Hens dominated the Red in week one of both 2017 and 2018, beginning the Red’s 4-6 and 3-7 seasons. But this season — to go along with a fresh outlook and revamped schematic plan — Cornell also gets a new first opponent.
Cornell will travel to take on Marist (1-1, 1-0 Pioneer Conference) on Saturday in what, on paper, is a winnable game heading into next week’s Ivy League opener, a tough road contest against Ivy preseason favorite Yale.
“Obviously they’re not in the [Colonial Athletic Association] like Delaware and not like a national powerhouse like Delaware’s been, but we’re in no position to focus on anybody but ourselves,” said head coach David Archer ’05.
Like every season, Cornell — along with its seven Ancient Eight foes — have waited, and waited and waited to take the field. The Red hopes to open its 132nd season with a win — and end it with its first above-.500 mark since 2004.
“Everybody’s [excited to] finally get a chance to hit somebody else, get to go against somebody else,” said senior safety and captain Jelani Taylor. “Everybody’s pumped up for the whole vision we’ve had this whole time … to come to fruition.”
In recent seasons, the vision of a winning season sometimes seemed to be inches away, well within Cornell’s grasp if just a couple bounces had gone its way. Other times, the Red seemed miles from 5-5, let alone an Ivy League championship.
“Some days I feel like, man, tweak one or two things, and we’re going to do it,” Archer said. “And then some days, I feel like, well, man, I gotta really look at what we’re doing here.”
So Archer spent the summer heading into his seventh season as coach reflecting, talking to team leadership and deciding: 2019 will mark the start of a new era for Cornell — at least in terms of in-game strategy.
“I felt like my approach was ‘Hey, I’m going to recruit the best players, I’m gonna develop them, I’m gonna run really sound schemes, and we’re gonna beat people,” Archer told The Sun last week. “And looking back on it, I don’t think I gave us a good enough of a chance, schematically.”
What specifically the new schemes and “hybrid warfare” approach on both offense and defense will look like remains to be seen. Defensively, Archer emphasized the importance of disguising coverages and blitzes. Offensively, new plans will certainly focus on the Red’s best offensive weapon, senior running back Harold Coles.
“I’m really excited to see how people try to gameplan against us, because there’s no way to stop every single person on our offense,” Coles said. “If you key on one of us somebody else is going to get loose, so I think this scheme really emphasizes that.”
Cornell remembers the miserable end to 2018 — culminating in a last-second loss at Columbia — and is poised to come out firing on Saturday.
“It’s been a long offseason [and] we ended the season on a bitter note last year,” Coles said. “So we’re trying to really turn that around and have a different season this year.”
News and notes:
Quarterbacks: “Both” are the starter
Senior Mike Catanese is listed as the starter on Cornell’s official depth chart, but that’s mostly just because somebody has to be listed as the starter, Archer said on Tuesday. The plan is for both Catanese and junior Richie Kenney to play a meaningful role.
“I sat both of them down and said, ‘you know what, you both played well enough to earn starting reps and we think we got two guys that we want to see on the field,’” Archer said. “And we’ll use them as we think their skills help us in that point of the game to win the game, but we think both [Catanese] and [Kenney] have played really well. The players have confidence and both of them the coaches have confidence in both of them.”
Coles said the two-headed QB provides an opportunity for the offense to diversify its looks.
“There’s a lot of potential there for sure,” he said. “We have two very different ways that they like to play and I think that’s something that could potentially make it a lot more difficult for defenses to defend.”
Null a game-time decision
Cornell hopes that senior Nickolas Null can be its go-to punter and kicker this season, but he remains questionable for Saturday’s game after dealing with injury issues most of last season. Sophomore Koby Kiefer and junior Garrett Patla are listed as the backup punter and kicker, respectively, if Null isn’t able to go.
Kickoff is set for noon Saturday at Marist’s Tenney Stadium in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.