While Cornell football has struggled against many teams in the Ivy League, it has found a recent groove against Harvard.
After losing for 11 straight years to the Crimson, the Red notched back-to-back victories in 2017 and 2018 — both at Schoellkopf Field — and will look to add a third win to that tally on Saturday in Cambridge. Unfortunately for Cornell, that goal looks quite daunting, as it has not won on the road against Harvard since 2000.
Following an upset by San Diego, Harvard rebounded with two blowout victories over Brown and Howard. The Crimson is a well-balanced team, boasting the third-best scoring offense in the nation (42.3 points per game) as well as a solid defensive unit (22nd in total defense).
Here’s a more in-depth look at Harvard:
The Crimson’s attack is led by junior quarterback Jake Smith. The signal-caller has amassed 737 passing yards with an 8-3 touchdown-interception ratio on an efficient 9.0 yards per attempt. After splitting reps at quarterback last year, Smith has fully taken the reins as the starter of an intimidating offense.
Linking up with Smith is lead receiver Jack Cook. Last season, the then-sophomore led the Ivy League in yards per reception at 18.57 and he is currently averaging 17.9 yards per catch for 233 yards. Cody Chrest and Ryan Reagan have also established themselves as go-to options for Smith, recording 151 and 103 yards, respectively, to round out Havard’s passing attack.
Given the Crimson’s propensity for big plays through the air, the Red has cause for concern. Against Georgetown, Cornell gave up several big receptions — one of which was a 33-yard catch by Michael Dereus that set up a touchdown, and the other of which was a 39-yard touchdown grab by Cameron Crayton. If the Red cannot contain Harvard’s receiving corps, it could find itself trailing throughout the game.
On the ground, the Crimson currently average 189.7 yards per game — a total that ranks third in the Ancient Eight. Leading the rushing attack is junior Devin Darrington. The Forest Hill, Maryland, native has racked up 277 yards along with four touchdowns. Darrington isn’t the only threat, though. Harvard boasts a multi-headed ground game as Aidan Borguet and DeMarkes Stradford have each eclipsed 100 yards and tallied two scores.
Out of its 15 trips to the red zone, the Crimson has made it to the end zone on 12 possessions, an 80 percent conversion rate. On the other end, Cornell has completed numerous goal-line stands and currently possesses the best red zone defense in the country. Seeing which unit prevails in this area will be a major key in this contest.
While Harvard possesses a capable defensive unit, it is comparably weaker than its offense. That being said, the Crimson was only truly exposed on defense during the first half of its loss to San Diego. The Torenos put up 24 points in the opening two frames before being outscored by Harvard, 23-7, the rest of the way. For the past two games, Harvard has only yielded a combined 24 points to Brown and Howard.
Sophomore Truman Jones has stepped up to lead Harvard’s front-seven. The linebacker has ravaged opposing backfields, totaling 13 tackles — six of which came for a loss — and four sacks. Jones is joined by a large platoon. Eight players have recorded at least one sack, and the Crimson lead the Ivy League in total sacks with 15. Opposing rushers have been stuffed by Harvard, as they have only averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
This does not bode well for a Cornell offense that has been sluggish thus far. Whether senior Mike Catanese or junior Richie Kenney starts at quarterback, both would be in for a long afternoon against the Crimson as they would often be forced to make plays under duress. Senior running back Harolds Coles may not maintain his same efficiency against Harvard. In 2018, Coles recorded 70 yards and a touchdown on 15 totes, but the Crimson gave him little room to run.
If Harvard does have a weak point, it lies in its secondary. Through the first three games, the Crimson has given up 261.7 yards per game, the second-worst mark in the Ivy League. Perhaps this is the time for Cornell’s receiving corps to come alive. Other than sophomore running back Delonte Harrell, who recorded an 89-yard touchdown reception against Yale, not a single Cornell player has eclipsed 100 yards receiving. Keep an eye out for senior wide receiver Owen Peters, though. In the Red’s 28-24 win over Harvard, Peters hauled in five passes for 112 yards — including the game-winning touchdown grab. Peters, who has been held to 82 yards this year, could finally break out.
Harvard is one of the better teams in the Ivy League and it will be difficult for Cornell to earn a victory on the road.
In order to notch its first Ivy win, Cornell’s defense will have to maintain its high level of play. That’s a tall task against a Crimson offense averaging 42.3 points per game, but one must keep in mind that those stats are bumped up by the lower-level opponents Harvard has faced thus far — Harvard’s last match saw them down Howard, 62-17. No one has seen the Crimson in action versus a defense of Cornell’s caliber.
Meanwhile, the offense will have to snap out of its slump. The Red needs to capitalize on its scoring opportunities. If it continues to leave points on the board against Harvard, Cornell will only add another loss to its resume. That being said, the Red does not need to experience an offensive outburst — especially if the defense plays well — but it does need to score more than the lone touchdown it mustered against Georgetown.
While the odds may seem like they’re stacked against Cornell, the Red has the ability to win this game. But to do that, Cornell will need to achieve something that it has failed to do through its first three games — play at a high level on both offense and defense.