Cornell football will return to the field for the first time in 665 days on Saturday, when the Red will square off against VMI in Cornell’s homecoming game at Schoellkopf Field.
To start 1-0 for the second consecutive season, Cornell will have to overcome an unfamiliar opponent in VMI (1-1). This will be the first meeting between the two teams in Cornell football history and the first time VMI has played an Ivy League opponent since 1939.
The Keydets come into the matchup ranked 22nd in the Football Championship Subdivision after two games. In their first game, VMI beat Davidson 45 -24. Last weekend, the Keydets suffered a 60-10 beatdown at Kent State.
VMI’s two weeks of action could serve as an advantage against a Cornell team whose last game was on Nov. 23, 2019. Saturday’s matchup will be the first test for the Red’s new roster with two classes of seniors.
“It’s going to be a great test,” said Head Coach David Archer ’05. “We haven’t played in two years. They’ve played  games [since then and] we’ve played none.”
Cornell’s long hiatus raises questions about how the Red will respond to a VMI team that has competed regularly since it held its 2020 season in the spring.
“The key to this week is can we keep our composure,” Archer said. “And secondly, how quickly do we get to game speed. Those two things are in my mind the biggest questions.”
Composure will be especially important for quarterback Richie Kenney and the Red offense. The Cornell coaching staff is expecting VMI to blitz in man coverage about 60 percent of the time.
“They’re going to get some negative plays because they’re going to blitz,” Archer said. “You just have to keep your composure and stick to your game plan.”
Kenney’s ability to remain composed and look for opportunities while under pressure will be key for the Red offense. VMI’s blitz will create one-on-one opportunities down the field. Kenney might take a few sacks and have to deal with collapsing pockets, but if he stays patient, he might be able to find open receivers for big plays.
“We just believe in our matchups,” Kenney said. “They’re going to give us a lot of one-on-one opportunities with man blitz, and I believe in my guys winning.”
In addition to the occasional big play, the Red hopes to keep the ball moving by getting to the perimeter and executing their blocking schemes. The offense will have to contend with VMI linebacker Stone Snyder, who was the Southern Conference defensive player of the year last season. Snyder leads the Keydets with 18 tackles.
Cornell’s defense will be forced to contend with VMI quarterback Seth Morgan and a talented group of wide receivers. Morgan shined in VMI’s opener, going 18-23 with 157 yards and two touchdowns, but struggled against Kent State, throwing for just 55 yards along with three interceptions. Cornell will hope their strong secondary can keep Morgan in check.
Cornell will have to keep pace with VMI’s high volume offense. The coaching staff expects the Keydets to try to run at least 90 plays.
“They’re going to try to run a ton of plays, they’re going to try to get you off balance,” Archer said.
VMI’s recent game experience, high volume offense and heavy load of blitzes could help the Keydets to an early lead against a Cornell team that has not played at game speed in almost two years. Archer emphasized that even if the Red falls behind, the game will not be out of reach as long as the team keeps its composure.
“We are never out of the game,” Archer said. “If you make one man miss in man coverage, nobody’s left.”
The team is hoping that its first game back will provide them with insights ahead of the start of their conference schedule in week two at Yale.
“We’re really excited to get out there and see where we’re at against a really quality opponent,” Archer said. “That’s the nice thing about this game. This is a good team so it will be a great litmus test.”
Cornell will look to open the season with a win in front of a homecoming crowd at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Schoellkopf Field.