Heading into last weekend’s 71st gridiron matchup between Yale and Cornell, it was well known how good the Bulldog defense has been over the past year. And the Eli defense proved why Saturday, holding the Big Red (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) to just 221 yards of total offense.
But it was the Cornell defense that stole the show.
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With non-stop pressure disguised by different schemes and packages, the Big Red had the Bulldog offense on its heels — and on the run — all day long.
“As I said after the game, I give all the credit to Cornell for their outstanding game plan and how hard they played,” head coach Jack Siedlecki wrote in an e-mail Monday night. “They changed their defense from a 4-4 last year to a 3-3 stack this year and did a great job disguising pressure and running to the ball.”
With that 3-3 stack, the Big Red pressured Yale (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) from all angles, forcing four turnovers and sacking the duo of Ryan Fodor ’09 and Brook Hart ’11 a combined five times.
“Cornell blitzes more than any team in all of football,” left tackle Darius Dale ’09 said. “They also do a great job of disguising their coverages and stunt packages, making it very difficult to know who’s coming on any giving play. As an offensive unit, we were faced with more exotic blitzes and stunts in one game than I had seen in my four years playing on the offensive line.”
The pressure, and subsequent plays for negative yardage, also forced the Bulldog offense into several third-and-long plays, which made it difficult to get it out of their own territory.
Thus, poor field position hampered the team all game.
The Elis began 11 of their 17 drives at or inside their own 20 and as a result, the offense advanced into Big Red territory just three times — twice in the first quarter and the third time on the team’s last drive of the contest.
Yale managed just 209 total yards on offense — all in the pass game. The vaunted Eli rushing game — led by standout Mike McLeod ’09 — was held to a total of zero net yards due to yardage lost on sacks.
“Defensively, we were really focused on reviving our run defense, which I believe we have done a good job of so far this year,” senior Cornell safety Gus Krimm said. “Coach [Jim] Knowles and the defensive coaches put together great blitz packages and we try to get in the face of the quarterbacks and running backs early and not let up.”
Last season, McLeod had 31 carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 51-12 rout if the Big Red.
Although he rushed for 57 yards last Saturday, he needed 20 twenty carries to do so — good for a 2.8 average.
“Not being able to run the ball effectively always, in every situation, makes it tougher for any offense to move the ball and score points,” Dale said.
But the Bulldogs are not going to panic anytime soon. The offensive line — which returned four of last year’s five starters — knows what it is capable of and will look to turn things around against a formidable Holy Cross (1-2) squad this weekend in New Haven.
“We are who we are offensively,” Dale explained. “You don’t just chuck the playbook out the window after one bad game. What we will do is challenge ourselves up front to get better and be more prepared for Holy Cross than we were for Cornell. Whenever the offense doesn’t do well, we, as offensive linemen, have to shoulder the blame and rise to the occasion to ensure the success of the team. Obviously there is much work to be done between now and Saturday and I look forward to the tough practices we’ll have this week.”