In its second week of the season, Cornell football is already gearing up for conference play. After sustaining a 31-21 loss to VMI on homecoming, the Red is now seeking to enter the win column at Yale on Saturday.
During its contest last week, Cornell kept pace with the fast-moving Keydets, trailing by a mere field goal both at the half and by the conclusion of the third quarter. Once the final frame came, the Red’s offense sputtered, and VMI pulled away with a late touchdown to secure the victory.
Cornell often turned to the air due to VMI’s defensive style — the Keydets frequently alternated between man pressure and no pressure. This resulted in fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney heaving 47 passes. Though Kenney only logged 18 completions, he threw for 273 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Kenney’s chemistry with senior wide receiver Thomas Glover was especially notable. Glover is a newly converted wide receiver who previously served as a running back, and he entered the game with just 40 career receiving yards to his name. But the senior exploded in his new role, catching seven passes for 159 yards and a score — all of which came in the first half. The Keydets then adjusted in the second half, locking down Glover.
“VMI giving you that man coverage, they’re daring you to go downfield,” Archer. “So, we were like, ‘OK, this guy will beat you downfield.’ We kept going to it, but in the second half, they started double-covering [Glover]. I see it being different this week, because I don’t predict Yale to come out every snap daring us to throw it over their head.”
Fifth-year running back SK Howard led the ground game for the Red against VMI. Though he made a trip to the end zone, Howard only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, and he described his performance as “lackluster.”
“We had a lot of rust to shake off,” Howard said. “It had been two years since we played, but that’s no excuse, though.”
For Archer, this weekend’s game against Yale’s defense should provide a better assessment of the running game due to the sheer difference in how VMI played defense.
“VMI forced you to play feast-or-famine football — you know, take a shot, take a shot, hit a big one in the run game — that’s the style that was dictated,” Archer said. “I anticipate the game being called much differently. With the RPOs that we do call, you’re going to have the option to run the ball, because you’re going to get zone coverage and a lighter box.”
Cornell last faced Yale in its 2019 Ivy League opener. In that contest, the Red had the game knotted at 10 apiece going into the final quarter, but the Bulldogs ultimately pulled away to notch the victory. For junior linebacker Jake Stebbins, he has seen a huge contrast in his play from then compared to now.
“We were watching some film on Yale from our game two years ago. I got in a couple of plays but not much because it was my rookie year,” Stebbins said. “Honestly, I laughed at how scared and non-confident I was at that point. Me going out there this past weekend with the confidence that I feel now is a big difference — it’s the confidence in my ability and my knowledge of playing at this level.”
The Bulldogs will present a new challenge for the Red’s defense. Yale operates a two-quarterback system with Griffin O’Connor as the starter, who functions more as a play-action, pocket passer. The other part of the pair is Nolan Grooms, a more mobile quarterback.
“You really have to have two different defensive gameplans,” Archer said. “When Griffin’s in there, you really got to focus on stopping the run with Zane Dudek … With their mobile quarterback, they’re going to run a spread triple option … so you really have to prepare for two different kinds of offenses.”
Yale is anchored by fifth-year running back Zane Dudek. In Dudek’s last full season, he racked up 938 total yards on 159 touches en route to Second Team All-Ivy honors. Containing the 195-pound back will be key for Cornell’s front seven.
“Zane’s a great runner … he’s from Western PA just like me, so I have seen him through high school too,” Stebbins said. “He’s really quick and shifty, so that’s one thing we’re working on in practice here, just breaking down and making sure he doesn’t juke us out.”
Saturday’s contest at Yale marks the first of a three-game road stand for the Red. On the road, Archer can’t bring his entire roster, so some players won’t make the trip. The verdict on which players can venture to New Haven is decided at practice by coach Archer.
“There’s an increased sense of competition when we have split practices,” Archer said. “I don’t even dress everybody at home, so that was not even the full team on the sideline [last weekend] because 135 players are too many to sideline manage. There are varying tiers of getting rewarded to be able to dress and to be able to travel.”
The Red will square off against the Bulldogs at the Yale Bowl on Saturday — kickoff is set for 12 p.m.