After starting its season with a surprisingly dominant win over VMI on the road, football can move to 2-0 for the first time since 2016 if it beats Yale at Schoellkopf Field in its homecoming game on Saturday.
A few late touchdowns by VMI after the game’s outcome had essentially been decided made Cornell’s 28-22 win seem less convincing on paper than it was on the field. The Red’s defense did not allow a point for the game’s first 54 minutes, forced three turnovers, six sacks, nine tackles for loss and got off the field on seven of VMI’s ten third downs. Cornell held VMI to -2 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Cornell’s chances of earning its first win over Yale since 2016 will depend on whether the defense can replicate its dominant performance. The Bulldogs relied heavily on their running game in their 38-14 season opening loss to Holy Cross, running 40 times and passing 27, despite playing from behind.
If Cornell can shut down the run game, it will force the ball into the hands of Bulldogs quarterback Nolan Grooms, who went 11-21 for 98 yards and two interceptions last week. Grooms poses a threat in the run game, and he will be the first mobile quarterback this Cornell defense has seen. Last season, Yale used Grooms as the run threat in a dual quarterback system.
“[Grooms] is really good,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “He can escape pressure. He’s got a live arm, he throws well on the run. He runs well. I think [Yale is] really, really good.”
Yale’s defense struggled in week one, allowing 318 yards in the air and 253 on the ground against Holy Cross. Cornell ran 53 times for 159 yards against VMI, and freshman running back Gannon Carothers and sophomore Eddy Tillman will try to build on strong debuts. Cornell has yet to get sophomore quarterback Jameson Wang going in the passing game, but this week could be an opportunity for Archer to run a more balanced offense. Wang went just 5-10 for 42 yards against VMI, but found senior tight end William Enneking for two 3-yard touchdown passes.
“I thought he operated the offense well. I don’t think he forced things,” Archer said. “I think he did what we asked him to do and, like all of us, there’s certainly things he can improve on.”
Saturday will be Yale’s first trip to Ithaca since 2018. The last three matchups between the teams have all been competitive in the fourth quarter, with Yale ultimately prevailing in all three. Fourth quarter play could be an early area of concern for the Red, especially after poor execution down the stretch of a few games last season. Cornell did a bad job of protecting its 28-2 lead late in the game last weekend.
“With a three and a half touchdown lead with six minutes to go, it’s almost statistically impossible that they would have enough possessions to be able to come back,” Archer said. “That doesn’t matter though. What matters is whoever’s in the game, whatever we call, we expect them to execute at the same level because that’s what we can control.”
Cornell should get a boost from the homecoming crowd. The Red is 37-34-2 on homecoming since 1948 and is 3-5 under Archer.
“There’s an extra buzz, the University does a nice job of promoting this game,” Archer said. “It’s something you want to lean into and embrace and use that energy to our advantage.”
A win on Saturday would be the 650th in program history. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field.
Prediction: Cornell 17 Yale 14
This might be an overcorrection after picking Cornell to lose by 13 last week (Cornell ended up as a 14.5 point underdog), but Cornell’s strong performance and Yale’s beatdown in week one make the Red my pick in a low-scoring affair.