Keys to the Game: 9.24.2010

The Battle in the Trenches

Yale’s linemen looked better than Cornell’s big men on both sides of the ball in the teams’ respective openers last week. Yale protected quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 flawlessly — the veteran unit did not allow a sack and opened up enough holes for Yale to gain 136 yards on the ground.

They will face a Cornell defensive line that failed to register a sack as Wagner racked up a staggering 325 yards rushing and 225 passing last week.

The matchup between Cornell offensive line and Yale’s defensive is the more interesting one. Cornell’s front failed to create any room for their offense as Wagner held the Big Red to seven points and only 242 total yards. Yale’s defensive line — though it recorded two sacks — must take some responsibility for the 35 points the Georgetown offense scored last week.

Experience will play a crucial role in this matchup. Captain Tom McCarthy ’11 anchors an experienced Yale defensive line, while Cornell is entrusting center and left tackle duties to starters whose first varsity experience was in last week’s game. Cornell quarterback Jeff Matthews is a freshman, so if McCarthy and company can bring the pressure early, they might be able to shake up the young Cornell offense.

Young Coaches

Last year, Governor M. Jodi Rell declared the Saturday of the Cornell game Tom Williams Day in honor of the rookie Yale coach’s home debut. This year, the tables are turned — minus the gubernatorial proclamation. Saturday will be Kent Austin’s second game on the Big Red sideline, and his first at home.

Austin, a former quarterback at the University of Mississippi, comes to Cornell from his job as offensive coordinator at his alma mater. Before returning to Ole Miss, Austin played professionally in the Canadian Football League, where he was also an offensive coordinator and head coach after his retirement.

That offensive experience means that Ithaca is expecting a better attack than the one that fizzled against Wagner last week.

But Austin, who also has brought in with him new offensive and defensive coordinators, will be facing a more established coach on the opposite side of the field. Williams is in his second season with a better feel for his team, an established starting quarterback, and a reorganized 4–3 defense that he and his staff have molded themselves. Yale will have to count on his steady hand and knowledge of the team to counteract the crowd at Cornell’s homecoming.

Special Teams

If Yale had converted just one of the two field goals Georgetown blocked last week, Witt’s last second heroics would have been unnecessary.

Williams and his staff named kicker Alex Barnes ’11 special teams player of the game last week, but the rest of the unit has work to do. Barnes can do nothing when the men in front of him are botching snaps and leaving holes at the line of scrimmage.

Yale must also improve its play on kickoffs. Porous coverage led directly to two Georgetown touchdowns last week. Dalen Claytor returned a Barnes kickoff 54 yards in the first half, setting up a Hoya score two plays later. Jeremy Moore’s 85-yard touchdown return to start the second half again showed problems with Yale’s coverage team.

Punting well is not enough. Yale will have to execute on kickoffs and field goals if they are to beat Cornell for the first time in three years.

Last Meeting

Witt marched Yale to its only touchdown of the game in the last 1:35 of the fourth quarter, but Cornell stopped a Yale two-point conversion attempt with no time left to secure a 14–12 win at the Yale Bowl. In a game dominated by defense, the Big Red scored on a trick play for 81 yards on the first play from scrimmage. They held on from there, and Yale managed only 296 yards of total offense on a blustery afternoon that saw more punts than first downs.

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