Cornell football’s schedule for this upcoming season looks a little different compared to years’ past. The Red is slated to play a pair of new non-conference opponents this year, one of them being Marist.
As a member of the Pioneer Football League, the Red Foxes already have a pair of games under their belt. During its season opener on Sept. 7, Marist suffered a 40-point loss to Georgetown — another team new to Cornell’s 2019 schedule. But the Red Foxes bounced back the following week, eking out a 26-23 victory over Stetson at home.
With the Red visiting Poughkeepsie, New York, during Marist’s homecoming weekend, it will certainly face an invigorated Red Fox side. Still, this matchup ultimately projects as a winnable opener for a number of reasons.
For one, Marist’s run defense has proven to be far from stellar in the early going. The Red Foxes returned only two starting linebackers from last year — senior Maliek Carr and redshirt junior Grant Dixon — and have reloaded with a defensive line filled entirely with new faces.
The early results have not been positive. Through the first two contests, the Red Foxes have yielded an average of 221 rushing yards per game. Senior running back Harold Coles will likely feast in the inaugural game of his final campaign. Expect backup Delonte Harrell to rotate and receive meaningful touches as well, especially if the Red amasses a big lead early.
On the other hand, the Red Foxes do boast a more intimidating secondary. Marist’s defensive backfield has only yielded an average of 226.5 passing yards per game to the tune of a 58.33 completion percentage.
Mike Catanese and Richie Kenney are both slated to see snaps from under center, Cornell will probably lean on its ground game and then see how each quarterback performs against a decent pass defense.
On the other side of the ball, Marist possesses some weapons that could cause problems for the Cornell defense. Similar to the Red, the Red Foxes have deployed two quarterbacks. Of the two, redshirt sophomore Austin Day is the bigger threat. Day has completed approximately 58 percent of his passes for 324 yards along with a touchdown and an interception. Meanwhile, Luke Strnard — also a redshirt sophomore — has thrown for 170 yards including a score and two picks.
Marist’s passing game is certainly mistake-prone — as evidenced by the three interceptions — but it also has demonstrated an ability to notch some big plays. During their narrow win against Stetson, the Red Foxes executed two passes that propelled the team to victory, both of which were caught redshirt senior Anthony Olivencia.
With 10 seconds left to play in the first half, Marist sported a two-point lead and found itself 45 yards from paydirt. Day launched a prayer to Olivencia, who made the catch and wiggled his way into the endzone. The Hatters roared back to score 13 unanswered points, giving Marist a four-point deficit. Operating at his own 25-yard line, Strnard connected with Olivencia near the first-down marker. Oliviencia proceeded to break a Stetson tackle and race down the sideline for the 75-yard score — a touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.
Speaking of Olivencia, he anchors the Red Foxes’ pass-catchers. In two games, the Miami native has tallied nine catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Close behind him is redshirt senior Jon Kanda, a tight end that has grabbed nine passes for 155 yards. The passing game doesn’t just run through them, though, as six other receivers have combined for 141 receiving yards.
Comparatively, the Red Foxes have not established a strong rushing attack, averaging only 85.5 yards per game. Junior Mekhai Johnson has impressed on limited touches, accumulating 170 yards on 5.8 yards per tote. But behind Johnson, no other runner has displayed meaningful production. Redshirt junior Darryn Jordan has struggled, only notching 53 yards on 16 carries.
Cornell’s secondary — led by seniors Jelani Taylor and David Jones — will face a decent challenge from Marist. With two new starters in Jake Watkins and Michael Irons in the back half of the defense, the Red could be susceptible to some long gains from the Red Foxes. But if the Red’s front seven can generate sufficient pressure, Marist will struggle to move the ball down the field.
On paper, Marist is not an imposing opponent. Cornell could certainly suffer some missteps and drop its opener, but the odds likely favor the visitors. To put this matchup into perspective, the Red Foxes fell by 40 to a fairly weak Georgetown team, one that will visit Schoellkopf Field in two weeks for Cornell’s homecoming. The last time the Red faced the Hoyas was a 45-7 Cornell victory on Sept. 29, 2007.
If Cornell can take care of business in Poughkeepsie on Saturday and push its record to 1-0, it will head to the Yale Bowl for week two — a matchup with the preseason Ivy League favorite Bulldogs — with a chance to be 2-0 as it comes home to take on Georgetown, a longtime go-to cupcake opponent for Ivy League squads.