Sometimes there are advantages to being an underdog — except when the team you’re playing is also an underdog.
Yale and Cornell were pegged by the preseason Ivy League media poll to finish a respective sixth and seventh in the Ancient Eight football standings. So when Yale opens Ivy League play against Cornell this weekend in Ithaca, N.Y., the competition is sure to be dog eat dog.
“You got to win on the road in the Ivy League,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “The good teams do it, and you got to do it to be in the running.”
Besides being pegged as cellar dwellers, the Elis and Big Red share quite a few other similarities. Both of the starting quarterbacks, Alvin Cowan ’04 for Yale and Mick Razzano for Cornell, are relatively inexperienced and will be getting their first snaps as starters in Ivy League competition.
Both teams feature veteran defensive lines with plenty of game experience. Cornell is returning all three starting defensive linemen, while Yale is returning four of five starting defensive linemen from last year: captain Jason Lange ’03, Stuart Satullo ’03, Luke Mraz ’03 and Mark Patterson ’03.
Despite these similarities, it would be hard to confuse the two teams. Cornell dropped their season opener against Bucknell by a score of 14-3. Yale comes into this Saturday’s game fresh off a 49-14 rout of the University of San Diego.
Cowan led the way for the Bulldogs last Saturday with an impressive performance. The quarterback completed 18 of 22 passes for 283 yards and added 114 rushing yards. Cowan was responsible for six of Yale’s seven touchdowns — three rushing and three passing — setting a new Yale record for touchdowns responsible for in a game.
For his electrifying performance, Cowan was awarded both the Walter Camp Player of the Game and the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week.
“It was definitely nice for me to get a game under my belt and have some success,” Cowan said. “Saturday’s game was nice in that it gave us some confidence. We don’t expect to have that kind of game in the Ivy League.”
In Cornell, Cowan and Yale will face a better team. Besides having a veteran defensive line, the Big Red can also boast returning linebackers, including Jarad Medea and Nat Spitler, both of whom earned All-Ivy honorable mention last year.
On offense, senior wide receiver Keith Ferguson will lead a deep group of targets for Razzano, who threw for 125 yards last weekend against Bucknell. On the ground, sophomore tailback Marcus Blanks rushed for a career-high 98 yards against the Bisons.
The scorecard for Cornell’s game against Bucknell is a little deceiving. Although Cornell lost the game, the Big Red offense still manage to put up 254 yards against the 10th-ranked defense in Division I-AA.
“Our players have to realize this week’s opponent will be a better team [than San Diego],” Siedlecki said. “Cornell is a big, physically strong football team on both sides of the ball.”
One possible chink in the Bulldogs’ armor is their inexperienced and unproven secondary. Although this unit played well against San Diego, the Big Red’s go-to wide receiver, Ferguson, will provide a much tougher test.
“Keith Ferguson is one of our most experienced players,” said John Strollo, Cornell’s offensive coordinator. “He’s a guy who’s capable of making explosive plays. We’d like to get him the ball.”
The Bulldogs can draw comfort from last year’s 43-13 win over Cornell. During that game, the Elis’ defense held Cornell to a pair of field goals and only one touchdown. Even more importantly, the Yale secondary held Cornell’s star quarterback Ricky Rahne to 14 of 35 pass attempts for just 135 yards.
A critical component of Yale’s success against Cornell last season was the Eli defense’s containment of Cornell’s running game. This time, Cornell will once again turn to its run game, hoping to put on a better performance. If the Elis want to return victorious this weekend, they will need a repeat of last year’s defensive effort.
“We’ve seen the Bucknell-Cornell game,” defensive tackle Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04 said. “I think the strength of our defense is our run defense, so we should be able to stop them. Even if they do rack up a some yards, we want to do what Bucknell did and stop them.”
Coincidentally, Saturday’s home opener is also Cornell’s homecoming. But the Elis still remain confident.
“Their homecoming is like any other game for us,” Lange said. “We’re just going to treat it like any other game and take care of business.”