Football team heads to Cornell
The Dartmouth football team (1-6, 0-4) heads to Cornell (3-4, 3-1) this week for a worst-against-first Ivy League match-up. The Big Red are one of four teams tied atop the League standings while the Big Green own sole possession of the cellar.
Despite their disparate positions, the teams may not be all that far apart.
After all, Cornell is six points from being 0-7 -- and 0-4 in the Ivies, just like Dartmouth. The Big Red have won each of their games by one point -- 24-23 over Yale on Sept. 23, 29-28 at Harvard on Oct. 7 and 25-24 last week versus Princeton.
These close wins suggest that Cornell is resilient, but also vulnerable.
"Defensively, this is the worst team we'll play all year," said Greg Smith '02, who was named the starting quarterback for this week's game. "They don't tackle well, they don't swarm to the ball, they don't have speed and they don't cover well. Everything we've done this season should work against them."
Of course, Dartmouth has some problems of its own.
In the last two games, the offense has generally stagnated and turned the ball over an unconceivable number of times. The defense has been unable to recover from these shocks, allowing 49 points in consecutive games to Columbia and Harvard.
The team has only been on the winning end of one turnover battle this season, three weeks ago in a 31-14 win against Holy Cross.
"The game we did win, we got some turnovers early," Head Coach John Lyons said. "A lot of these games we've lost we've given the ball up and gotten down. You can't give yourself a chance when you've been throwing as many interceptions as we have the last couple of weeks."
This weekend's game will likely come down to turnovers too.
Dartmouth heads to Cornell with Smith at the helm, instead of Brian Mann '02 -- who has started for the last two seasons. Smith enjoyed a good game in his only other start this year, passing for 285 yards at the University of New Hampshire with Mann on the bench recovering from a concussion.
"I got a taste of what it's like the second week of this season but that wasn't the same scenario because I hadn't proven myself yet," Smith said. "Now, I think the guys really have confidence that I can make plays to help us win the ballgame and that's pretty much all I can ask out of them, their support."
Smith will be supported by a few less bodies than the team started the season with. Tailback Reggie Belhomme '00, who began the season as the number one running back, missed several games due to injury and is still wearing a knee brace.
Aaron Pumerantz '02, Belhomme's substitute, is out with an injury.
Star wide receiver Damien Roomets '02 was suspended by the College for his involvement in a fight, while his replacement, Matt Davis '03, is gone for the year after having likely torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
Team Captain and offensive lineman Caleb Moore '01 is also unlikely to play due to a severely sprained ankle.
"The injuries shouldn't be a problem," Smith said confidently. "We've got some talented freshmen at the skill positions that can make things happen."
But even if the talent level has not dropped -- which is dubious -- the lack of veteran leadership could spell trouble.
The Ivy League this year is full of quarterback-receiver duos which have racked up points against helpless defenses. These include Yale's Peter Lee and Eric Johnson, Harvard's Neil Rose and Carl Morris and Penn's Gavin Hoffman and Rob Milanese.
Perhaps equal to any of them is the Big Red's tandem of quarterback Ricky Rahne and wideout Joe Splendorio. The pair cut up Dartmouth's defensive backfield last season in a losing effort.
This season, Splendorio has made 34 grabs for 512 yards and three touchdowns.
"He's got very good hands," Lyons said. "He's deceivingly fast."
Cornell has diversified its passing attack this year, often going to small and speedy Keith Ferguson as well as Splendorio. Ferguson has caught 29 balls for 545 yards.
Cornell's running game is suspect -- starter Even Simmons averages 3.9 yards per carry -- but the air attack has managed to make up for it so far.
Dartmouth's salvation may come in the form of the porous Big Red defense. The unit has held opponents to no fewer than 23 points in any game this year. It gave up 56 to Brown, 38 to Bucknell and 35 to Lehigh.
"They've given up some yards and they've given up some points," Lyons said. "We can move the ball against them."
Sadly for the Big Green, Cornell is probably saying the same thing right now. Dartmouth's defense has allowed 40 or more points in five of its seven games.
Columbia running back Jonathan Reese enjoyed a career day against the Big Green two weeks ago, rushing for 236 yards. Last weekend, Harvard's Matt Leiszler, Nick Palazzo and company gained 318 yards on the ground.
Injuries have also hurt the defense. The latest was defensive end Matt Birdeye '03, who broke his hand against the Crimson.
Key to the game
"We must take care of the ball at all times and I think if we do that, we'll win easily," Smith said.
That's all there is to it.