The “Big Red” might as well be the “Little Blue.”
Cornell (1-0, 0-0) and Yale (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) boast enough eerie similarities — a record-breaking running back, a surprising sophomore wide receiver, a stud junior linebacker, and a rebuilt offensive line — that this Saturday’s home opener promises to be an interesting game.
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The Big Red opened their season with a convincing 38-14 victory over the Bucknell Bison. After finishing seventh in the Ivies in passing offense — one spot ahead of the Bulldogs — Cornell reverted to the spread offense that junior quarterback Nathan Ford enjoyed so much success with in high school. The experiment proved to be a resounding success as the Big Red racked up over 450 total yards of offense. Ford finished the game 31 of 45 for 288 yards and also recorded two rushing touchdowns. Senior tailback Luke Siwula also had a stellar performance with 81 rushing yards and three touchdowns, moving into sixth-place in Cornell history with 2,066 rushing yards.
“Cornell is going to be a much tougher challenge for us,” wide receiver John Sheffield ’10 said. “I know that they like to do some of the same quick passes and screens that Georgetown frustrated us with. I am sure that our coaches will come up with a solid game plan to stop them, though.”
Despite Siwula’s run into the recordbooks, the two biggest stories of the game were the emergence of last year’s backup quarterback Stephen Liuzza as a legitimate threat at wideout and the stellar performance of junior linebacker Graham Rihn. Rihn, the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week, recorded a sack and two tackles for a loss against Bucknell, helping limit the Bison offense to only 240 total yards. After Rihn’s performance last week, it should come as no surprise that the Bulldogs will be focusing on containing Cornell’s blitz packages.
“Cornell has a disruptive defense that presents a lot of challenges for any offense, but I believe our offense is just coming into its own,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “This game should be a good stepping stone for us and I expect to see our playmakers step up against their defense. Their stunts leave them susceptible to big plays and I think our veterans will take advantage of that.”
In addition to relying on their experienced playmakers like star running back Mike McLeod ’09 and quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08, the Bulldogs will also be looking for some of their newer players to build upon the success they had against Georgetown. Sheffield, who had eight catches for 115 yards against the Hoyas, will be important in keeping the pressure off of McLeod and will serve as a safety outlet for Polhemus against the Cornell blitz.
“As we develop offensively, we need players like John to make plays and make things more difficult for opposing defenses,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Everyone will focus on Mike and the more playmakers we have available, the more difficult it will be to defend us.”
Georgetown employed an offense that emphasized short passes and screens, similar to Cornell’s spread offense, to considerable success against the Elis last week. The Hoyas finished with 372 total yards — only 26 less than the Bulldogs — and managed to cut the Elis’ lead to a single touchdown with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter. The Bulldog defense will have their work cut out for them against a Big Red attack that boasts much more talent than the Hoyas’ offense.
“I think we’re going to be making some changes on defense to defend those kinds of things,” Polhemus said. “Coach Flanders is going to make adjustments and get guys in the right positions to stop the spread.”
Although the game against Georgetown was not the blowout that many predicted it would be, the defending Ivy League champions are confident about their chances heading into Ivy League play.
“Cornell’s offense returns a lot of starters to a strong unit, and they do play a similar style to Georgetown, but I don’t anticipate us having a problem with their offense,” Hollander said. “They played a similar style against us last year, and just like Georgetown, while they were able to move the ball, ultimately we made stops when it mattered.”
The Elis kick off tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. at the Yale Bowl.