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Yale football will kick off its Ivy League schedule this Saturday when it hosts Cornell at the Yale Bowl. The Elis have faced the Big Red in their Ivy opener every season since 1999.

Cornell (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) enters Saturday’s game with an out of conference loss on its resume. The Big Red hosted the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI, last week in front of over 12,000 fans. Despite losing their starting quarterback in the first quarter, the Keydets controlled the game, holding a lead for the entirety of the second half. Cornell ultimately fell 31–21 in their season opener. The Bulldogs (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) also dropped their first game last weekend against the Holy Cross Crusaders (2–1, 0–0 Patriot).

Last Saturday, Team 148 started quickly, building an early 14-point lead in the first half. Holy Cross was held scoreless until the halfway mark of the second quarter, when kicker Derek Ng hit a 44-yard field goal. After the early 14–0 lead, Yale was outscored 20–3. Ng put the final nail in the coffin, making a 47-yard field goal to give the Crusaders the lead with 48 seconds left in the game.

“What you saw on the field was a lot of flashes, flashes of what we feel this team is going to be,” head coach Tony Reno said on Tuesday. “But with those flashes was a lot of inconsistency … We didn’t play to the standard of Yale football. So we went back to the drawing board this week and looked at some things and made some adjustments.”

Cornell’s offense relied heavily on the passing game in its season opener — the Big Red threw the ball 47 times to its 27 rushing attempts. Despite his low completion percentage (38.3 percent), fifth-year senior quarterback Richie Kenney threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Kenney leaned heavily on receiver Thomas Glover, who had 159 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. Fifth-year senior Alex Kuzy was also a focal point, finishing second on the team in receptions. 

Part of Cornell’s offensive imbalance came because of a stifled running game. As a team, the Big Red averaged only three yards per carry with three primary backs rotating into the game. SK Howard led the way with 35 yards on 11 touches. 

“I was pleased with our game speed,” Big Red head coach David Archer said after the game. “I saw us just be a little rusty … I’ve never had to prepare a team that hasn’t played football in two years before, and I think that’s really what you saw.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Big Red did an excellent job slowing down VMI’s aerial attack. Redshirt freshman Collin Ironside took over for the injured Seth Morgan early in the first quarter, but only averaged 5.5 yards per attempt and threw an interception. The Keydets’ damage came in the running game, where they racked up 112 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Big Red, the story of the 2021 season will be their age.

“Cornell is a very good football team. In their [depth chart], there’s 38 seniors who are fifth-year players,” Reno said. “We’re talking about 38 players that are either in their final year of eligibility or are fifth-year guys. It is a very veteran group and they are a team that had a lot of success in the end of the 2019 season.”

In fact, it was Cornell’s big 20–17 upset win against Dartmouth at the end of the 2019 season that opened the door for Yale to earn a share of the Ivy League title. Dartmouth had come into that game undefeated and ranked 11th in the FCS. The Big Green held a one game edge over the Bulldogs after a 42–10 victory in October and was favored to defeat Cornell by 30 and a half points. Cornell entered the battle with a 1–4 conference record, but pulled the upset in dramatic fashion and went on to rout Columbia 35–9 the following week.

“They are very veteran in all phases: from their offensive and defensive line, a fifth year senior at quarterback, their defense is the same defense that played against us in 2019, so a really, really good football team,” Reno said. “It’s going to be an incredible test for us as we start our Ivy League season on Saturday at the Bowl.”

For the Bulldogs, last week’s opener against Holy Cross gave them a chance to return to live action for the first time in two years. The Elis struggled to find their footing as the game progressed.

“We had a lot of good runs in the spring with spring ball, getting back here for the first team, as a team being back together and we were able to work on that timing stuff,” wide receiver Mason Tipton ’24 said. “I think since we’ve got here, it’s been good getting back, working that timing. But as I said before, it’s going to be a process, and the flow of the offense and everything is going to come with the games we play. Like coach always says, it’s just the next game, next day, and we’ll be back at it working the stuff that we need to work on.”

Saturday’s game will be a measuring stick game for the Bulldogs. Of the many storylines entering the game, the biggest may be whether Yale can regain its form and prove it was deserving of the second place ranking it earned in the pre-season poll.

“We’ve got a lot to prove as a team,” Reno said. “Team 148 has a lot to prove. We look at it that way.”

Yale and Cornell will kick-off at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25 at the Yale Bowl.

NADER GRANMAYEH
Nader Granmayeh is a staff writer covering football and softball for the Yale Daily News. He is originally from New York City and majoring in political science.