Big Green defense looks to have its way with Cornell

by Elliot Olshansky | 11/7/03 6:00am

It's almost a week since the Big Green football team turned the Ivy League on its ear with a 30-16 upset win over Harvard at the Harvard Stadium Centennial Celebration, and it's a good bet that in Cambridge, Crimson fingers are still scratching Crimson heads trying to figure out exactly what happened to their previously undefeated Crimson team.

The answer, however, is simple enough: Dartmouth's defense happened.

Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that Charlie Rittgers completed 17 passes for 344 yards and earned the Boston Globe Gold Helmet award for his effort against the Crimson. Likewise, the five-catch, 111-yard performance from Andrew Hall '05 -- including a one-handed, 38-yard catch in double coverage on third and 28, now known simply as "The Catch" -- certainly went a long way towards securing the Big Green victory.

However, when a Harvard team that scored 43 points against Princeton a week earlier can muster only 16 the next week, it certainly says something about the Dartmouth defense. Indeed, since giving up 37 points per game over the first four weeks of the season, the Big Green has allowed only 19 points per contest in its three wins over Holy Cross, Columbia, and Harvard.

"I think one of the things is that we've had a little more depth," said Big Green head coach John Lyons. The last several weeks have seen the returns of defensive end Derham Cato '05, cornerback Steve Jensen '05, and linebacker Andy Rankin '05. Against Harvard, the three combined to provide 14 tackles, as Harvard scored the fewest points of any Dartmouth opponent this season.

Not that the Big Green defense wasn't already on a roll. Mike Ribero '05 and Ryan Conger '05 are thrid in the league in interceptions and sacks, respectively, and last week, strong safety Phil Frost '04 was named Ivy Defensive Player of the Week after he made 11 tackles, including a nine-yard sack, in Dartmouth's 26-21 Homecoming win over Columbia. Frost made a similar impact in Dartmouth's victory over the Crimson, making 12 tackles and forcing a fumble.

Frost was one of three Dartmouth players with double digit tackles against Harvard, as co-captain Clayton Smith '05 made 11 tackles and linebacker Josh Dooley '06 made 14 stops, despite catching an elbow to the face that made the former Ivy Rookie of the Year miss part of the game.

Dartmouth did allow the Crimson a couple of big plays: freshman running back Clifton Dawson broke free for a 71-yard touchdown run on the Crimson's second play from scrimmage, and Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a 55-yard scoring pass to Rodney Byrnes at the beginning of the fourth quarter. However, the Dartmouth defense kept its cool throughout the game, holding the Crimson to 7-of-18 on third down and 3-of-8 on fourth down en route to the upset.

The Big Green defense will be looking for another big game tomorrow, when the Big Red of Cornell (1-6, 0-4 Ivy) comes to Hanover. After last week's 28-6 loss to Princeton, Cornell is averaging a paltry 11.2 points a game, and senior Mick Razzano is the Ancient Eight's lowest-rated starting quarterback (90.0). Still, while the Big Green defense should feast on Cornell's anemic offense, Lyons is focused on making sure his team stays hungry.

"One of the things we've tried to focus on is what we need to be doing," Lyons said, "and not so much who we're playing. They're a big offensive line, and they had success running the ball against us last year. We have to go out there and continue to play good run defense."

With the momentum from last week's performance against Harvard, the Big Green defense will be looking to shut down Cornell, creating plenty of opportunities for Rittgers and the Dartmouth offense when the teams kick off at 12:30 p.m. at Memorial Field.