Pick a clich. With only three games remaining, it is do or die, make or break, now or never for Big Green football Saturday when Cornell rolls into town. Should Dartmouth falter, its record would tumble to 2-6, 1-4 in the Ivy League. A win, on the other hand, would place Dartmouth just one game under .500 in league play and sustain the hopes of green-bleeding fans everywhere for a respectable season.
For a struggling team fresh off a 42-14 drubbing from Harvard, Cornell may be the Big Green's ideal opponent. Knotted with Dartmouth in sixth place with an identical 1-3 league record (3-4 overall), the Big Red has dropped its last two games and sits just one game ahead of winless league punch dummy Columbia on the Ivy totem pole. Despite Cornell's adverse situation, however, the Big Green does have some cause for anxiety.
First off, the Big Red will come into Memorial Field hungry, if not downright angry on Saturday after losing a 20-17 overtime heartbreaker to Princeton, which is currently tied for first in the league with a 3-1 record (5-2 overall). Two days before Halloween, Cornell brought the trick but could not earn the treat, coming back from a 14-0 first quarter deficit using a fake punt, a creative onside kick and other chicanery to nearly pull off the upset.
The Big Red defense and running game could also pose significant problems for Dartmouth. Defensively, Cornell plays both the run and the pass very well, ranking in the top 25 nationally in both areas. Having allowed just 285 total yards per contest, the Big Red, moreover, ranks 12th in the country in total defense. Those numbers do not bode well for a Dartmouth offense that has been near the bottom of the country in rushing yards, total offense and scoring this season. The Big Green has managed a measly 40 points in four Ivy League games this season.
On the other side of the ball, Cornell runs the football very often and very effectively. Led by senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn and sophomore running back Luke Siwula -- both among the nation's top 50 rushers -- the Big Red has amassed an impressive 240 yards per game on the ground.
With 592 yards, eight touchdowns and an average of 4.6 yards per carry, one might call Kuhn the Michael Vick of the Ivy League. In last week's debacle against Harvard, Liam O'Hagen showed that a mobile quarterback could distress the Big Green defense, as he tallied 70 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Dartmouth will certainly have its hands full with Kuhn.
Big Green fans, however, do have reason for encouragement. There is often little that can invigorate a team more fully than a sound beating. As Dartmouth's leading receiver Ryan Fuselier '06 said after the Harvard game, "The only thing we have coming out of the loss is that we are going to come out with our heads on fire against Cornell at home this week." The men in green are angry, and 22 men with heads ablaze might represent a most fearsome foe for the Big Red.
Dartmouth's defense, moreover, has been stingy this season, ranking 28th in the country and demonstrating a knack for creating turnovers. In order to earn a victory Saturday, however, the unit must stand firm against Cornell's proficient rushing offense. After allowing almost 200 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against Harvard, a repeat of last week would prove devastating for the squad. Dartmouth must turn the fleet-footed Kuhn into a pocket passer by creating third-and-long situations. Kuhn has completed only 51.5 percent of his throws for a mere three touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
Offensively, Dartmouth will need to establish its running game to keep Cornell's dynamic spread offense off the field. The Big Green, however, will likely be without the services of starting tailback Jason Bash '06, who was banged up against Harvard. Ikechi Ogbonna '06 and Milan Williams '09 will likely share the rushing duties.
Dartmouth must also improve its pass protection for rookie quarterback Josh Cohen '09. While Cohen has been impressive at times for the Big Green, completing over 60 percent of his passes and throwing for five touchdowns, he has been sacked too often, hitting the turf eight times last week. Against a good pass defense, the Big Green cannot afford to regularly make a bull's-eye out of Cohen on third-and-long situations.
The game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Field. It can be heard locally on WDCR (1340 AM) and WFRD (99.3 FM).