After defeating the University of Pennsylvania this past weekend for its first Ivy League win of the season, the Red will stay in the conference to face rival Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, this Saturday.
The Big Green pose the biggest challenge in these final two weeks of regular season play, as they currently hold the No. 1 ranking in the Ivy League after beating previously undefeated Princeton 31-7.
The Red is coming off of one of its best defensive games yet, claiming the Trustee’s Cup over Penn in a close 15-12 match. All told, Cornell’s defense only gave up two field goals to the Quakers, with the remaining six points coming off a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
Senior cornerback Eric Diggs had a crucial interception at the goal to keep Penn out of the endzone. He credits his pick to the coaching staff for including more turnover drills in practice. Now looking at the Big Green, the defensive back realizes his unit will need to battle heavily in the trenches if they’re going to win.
“Dartmouth does a lot of different formations [and] they’re heavy in the run game,” Diggs said. “So we’re just focusing on filling all the gaps, filling the holes and playing physical defense.”
Dartmouth is currently tied for second in the conference in rushing yards per game behind tailbacks Nick Howard, Zack Bair and Noah Roper. In a running back-by-committee system, all of the backs have been given ample opportunities to carry the ball, each averaging at least 5.7 yards per carry.
However, the Red has been doing well stopping the run game in recent outings. Against Penn, Cornell’s defensive line held primary running back Isaiah Malcome, who had garnered an impressive 6.6 yards per carry heading into the game, to 24 yards and no touchdowns.
“I think we played better against the run [last weekend],” said Head Coach David Archer ’05. “We’ve been good against the run this year … so I think there was an improvement there.”
To go along with its run game, Dartmouth also posts the most efficient passing game in the conference. On the second fewest passing attempts of any Ivy League team, quarterback Derek Kyler has managed to accumulate 1,575 yards, 14 touchdowns and a 70 percent completion percentage with only two interceptions.
While the Red has had an unpredictable passing defense, the secondary has forced the second most interceptions in the conference, proving that the unit can make big plays when necessary.
Defensively, the pieces are in place to make the rivalry a competitive game. The offense poses as more of a wild card.
Against Penn, behind quarterbacks Richie Kenney and Jameson Wang, the Red garnered less yards, less first downs and had a lower time-of-possession. However, behind two crucial drives culminating in Wang rushing touchdowns, Cornell scraped away with the win.
“Offensively, we didn’t move [the ball] and score as many points as I would have liked,” Archer said. “but we took advantage when we had the opportunities.”
Archer was especially impressed by Wang and his ability to make the most out of his opportunities.
“He’s really special running the ball. He’s got a great knack for setting guys up and going the other way to make people miss,” Archer said. “I hope he just keeps progressing and keeps getting better and better.”
The Big Green have held its opponents to only 112 rushing yards per game, so the Red will need to either improve its passing efficiency going into Saturday or find a weakness in the rushing defense if they are to put up more points in Hanover.
Being the underdog in this matchup, Cornell faced a similar challenge the last time the team played Dartmouth. Against the odds, the Red came back to win 20-17 and hand Dartmouth its only loss of the season.
With the fifth-year player rule implemented as a result of the pandemic, Richie Kenney, who started in the upset win two years ago, has the opportunity to repeat history and spoil Dartmouth’s uncontested championship hopes.
But this is not the same Big Green team that the Red faced in 2019.
“Totally new batch of kids [at Dartmouth]. We obviously are a very different team than two years ago,” Archer said. “I think we just need to keep a very focused mindset on what we can control and know that we created a huge upset two years ago.”
With only two games left on the schedule, the Red hopes to prove itself once more against its top-ranked rival. Behind veteran Richie Kenney, newcomer Jameson Wang, and a stout defensive unit with big-play ability, the game will likely be more competitive than records might suggest.
The Red will try to upset the Big Green this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when it travels to Hanover to compete on the road at Memorial Field.