Coming off a dominant showing and its first win of the season last Friday against Colgate, Cornell football will look to make it two in a row when it hosts Brown on Saturday.
Saturday’s game has the potential to be a shootout. Cornell (1-4, 0-2) and Brown (1-4, 0-2) have the two worst defenses in the league by yards and points allowed. Brown’s offense is highly capable, as the Bears put up 42 points in their last game against a strong Princeton defensive unit. The Red has recently figured out its offensive struggles and seems poised for a strong performance.
After starting 0-4, the Red reversed its fortunes with an impressive all around performance in a 34-20 win over Colgate. Cornell’s starting defensive unit allowed just one touchdown and some new faces fueled a breakout game for the offense.
Cornell improved a number of weak spots in its game in the win. The quarterbacks played well, the run game broke out and the Red won the turnover battle.
The biggest change the team made was its use of a three quarterback rotation. Fifth-year Richie Kenney, freshman Jameson Wang and sophomore Luke Duby all contributed touchdowns in the win over Colgate. Kenney and Wang each played 24 snaps, while Duby played 13. Senior Dez’mond Brinson also played in the fourth quarter.
The new quarterbacks added a mobility threat to Cornell’s offense. Wang and Duby both demonstrated an ability to run. Wang was the Red’s leading rusher, going for 84 yards on 12 carries and Duby broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run. Just seven of Wang and Duby’s 37 snaps were passing plays.
The mobile quarterbacks made the Red’s offense more dynamic. Kenney passed for a season-high 80 percent completion rate, going 12-15 with 166 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, the Red rushed for 241 yards, more than doubling its previous season high of 103.
“[The threat of a mobile quarterback] opens up the game for the running backs because the defense has to decide which side they’re going to contain,” said senior running back Delonte Harrell. “The running back could go right and the quarterback could go left, so it makes us more versatile.”
Through its first three games, the Red had turned the ball over eight times, including a slew of red zone and third down turnovers, and had forced only one takeaway. In its last two games, Cornell has racked up four takeaways and has not turned the ball over.
Part of the Red’s newfound ball security has come from a change in play-calling strategy. The ability to gain yards on the ground has given the Red’s offense the ability to run instead of pass on third down. The Red ran on nine of its 13 third downs, which helped it avoid third down passing situations that have higher probability of turnovers occurring.
Cornell will look to continue to generate positive offensive momentum against a Brown defense that has allowed a league worst 39.2 points per game. Expect the Red to continue to utilize its quarterback rotation, and possibly get even more creative.
“There might even be an extra guy in that rotation,” Head Coach David Archer ’05 said. “You might see more than three.”
Facing off against Brown’s defense will provide an opportunity for the Red’s running backs to build on their big game against Colgate. The Bears have allowed a league high 154.6 rushing yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, Brown’s offense will be a tough test for the Red’s defense. The Bears are led by All-American quarterback EJ Perry, who has passed for 335.6 yards per game so far this season.
“EJ Perry is the best quarterback I’ve seen in the Ivy League since Ryan Fitzpatrick,” Archer said. “He has no weakness, he can run, he can throw. He reads the coverage. He’s elusive in the pocket. He gets a quick release, he’s accurate down the field. He’s outstanding.”
With a talented quarterback at the helm, Brown relies heavily on the passing game. The Bears rank first in the Ivy League in passing and last in the league in rushing. Brown has a trio of weapons that pose threats in the passing game. Wes Rockett, Graham Walker and Hayes Sutton all average over 65 receiving yards a game. The trio will be a lot for Cornell’s secondary to manage.
“We know that [Perry] is one of the best quarterbacks we’re going to see,” senior cornerback Demetrius Harris said. “It’s up to us [to stop him]. We just have to go back to our fundamentals.”
The Red’s secondary is coming off a strong game. Against Colgate the Red had 10 pass breakups and an interception. Despite its strong showing last week, the Red has allowed 203.2 passing yards per game over the course of the season.
One key to breaking up the Bears’ passing rhythm is pressuring Perry. The Red only has six sacks so far this season.
“With a guy like Perry, you can’t give him all day to throw,” Archer said.
If it is going to win its first Ivy League contest of the season, the Red will have to continue its offensive momentum and its defense will have to step up to contain Perry and the Bears.
Cornell will try to start a two-game win streak at 1 p.m on Saturday when it hosts Brown at Schoellkopf Field.