Football faces must-win vs. Cornell

by Brett Drucker | 11/1/12 11:00pm

by Maggie Rowland and Maggie Rowland / The Dartmouth

One of the keys for the Big Green will be getting off to a strong start, as sluggish first-half performances have often placed the squad in impossible holes this season. Last week against Harvard, Dartmouth went down 21-0 at halftime before opening the second half with a pair of touchdowns to bring the game within a touchdown. Ultimately, Dartmouth was unable to come all the way back.

"We have to be confident in what we're doing," co-captain Bronson Green '14 said. "We're a very good football team, and we've proven that we can play at a high level, but now we just need to put in a full 60 minutes of football."

Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens also stressed the importance of starting aggressively and said that the team's conditioning efforts have positioned it well to make late-game runs, such as the fourth-quarter comeback against Columbia University two weeks ago.

"Right now, the focus is on our performance right off the blocks," said Teevens. "But we're a well-conditioned and well-trained team and that kicks in over the course of the game."

Cornell features one of the most prolific offenses in the league, led by quarterback Jeff Mathews, the defending Bushnell Cup winner as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Mathews has passed for 382.7 yards per game, a total that ranks him second in the FCS, and Teevens described the junior as a legitimate NFL prospect. In order to protect against the Big Red's prolific passing offense, Big Green coaches and players talked about using Dartmouth's offense as a defense and striving to keep Mathews on the bench.

"Time of possession will be a big deal keeping their offense off the field," Green said. "If we can establish the running game, we'll be in much better shape."

After tilting heavily toward the pass against Harvard's top-ranked rush defense, Teevens suggested Dartmouth may opt for a more balanced offensive approach against the Big Red.

"Keeping [Mathews] on the bench is a huge opportunity for us, and more balance this time around will help us maintain possession, move the ball and eat the clock," he said.

When the defense is on the field, the focus will be on providing overwhelming pressure to force the Cornell offensive machine out of its rhythm.

"It starts with their quarterback, who has had a great year and has a lot of options," Green said. "We need to make sure we pressure him in the pocket to slow him down."

The Dartmouth offense will take both positives and negatives from last week's outing against Harvard. On the positive side, Dartmouth outgained the Crimson, 397 yards to 382, and Alex Park '14 and Michael Reilly '12 set career highs in passing and receiving yards, respectively.

Park seems to have established himself as the starting signal caller and has been an important addition to the already-potent rushing attack led by Dominick Pierre '14. This multidimensionality allows the Big Green offense additional flexibility and creativity in its schemes, which makes the game even more difficult for opposing defenses.

"With our offensive coordinator [Keith Clark], everybody knows he likes to run the ball a lot, but being able to pass too is huge to keep defenses from packing the box," tight end Mitch Aprahamian '13 said. "[Park] has brought consistency and is good at reading the defense and putting us in a position to win."

Aprahamian described a flexible offense where two plays are called and Park has the discretion to choose which one he thinks is appropriate, showing extensive trust in the sophomore quarterback.

"Even as a new guy, he's been given a lot of control," Aprahamian said. "He's under a lot of pressure, and he handles it well."

Unfortunately, the Big Green was unable to get on the board at all in the first half against Harvard and surrendered a season-high six sacks that stalled multiple drives, especially late in the game. Dartmouth versus Cornell kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y.

Here is a look at what newspapers around the Ivy League are saying about the upcoming game.

Yale Daily News: Cornell over Dartmouth. Dartmouth's defense has been strong this season, but fared poorly in its only real Ivy League test against Harvard last week. Cornell will be confident coming off a huge win against Princeton and will be playing at home.

Columbia Daily Spectator: Cornell over Dartmouth. Dartmouth's defense is not bad at all, but I expect Jeff Mathews to be better. Dartmouth could have some trouble scoring points if this one gets to be a shootout.

The Daily Princetonian: Cornell over Dartmouth. The Big Green's offense hasn't topped three touchdowns since Week One, which won't be enough to keep up with Jeff Mathews.

The Harvard Crimson: Cornell over Dartmouth. The Cornell offense against the Dartmouth defense should be a fun matchup to watch, but at home after an impressive win over Princeton, Cornell gets the nod here.

The Dartmouth: Dartmouth over Cornell. Dartmouth's top-ranked defense will take the experience from Harvard last week and find a way to slow down the Cornell offensive juggernaut.