The No. 18 Crimson (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) faces off against the Big Red (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) at 12:30 in Harvard Stadium. Harvard will look to remain undefeated against a team that is coming off of its first victory of the season.
Last Saturday, Cornell upset then-No. 23 Albany by a score of 23-21. The last time the Big Red beat a ranked team was in last season’s 27-13 defeat of the Crimson in Ithaca, NY.
Cornell Head Coach Jim Knowles believes that this momentum will help the Big Red against unbeaten Harvard.
“It’s about the same time last year that we started to play well,” Knowles said. “It’s nice to have some momentum because we’re going against a great team.”
The Crimson enters the game with some mojo of its own, after last weekend’s inspiring come-from-behind victory against Lehigh.
Harvard’s defense leads Division 1-AA with 5.3 sacks per game, and leads the Ivy League against the rush, allowing only 33.7 yards per game.
The Big Red’s offense will counter with its nation-best 0.3 sacks allowed per game and its powerful rush attack, which has picked up an average of 227.7 yards per game to lead the Ivies.
“Something’s got to give,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “I think the bottom line is it’s strength against strength. I don’t see them running for their average against our football team. I see them trying to be a little bit more balanced offensively.”
But Harvard has one clear advantage over the Big Red, which comes in the form of senior running back Clifton Dawson, who leads the league in every major rushing category.
Cornell’s star running back, Luke Siwula, is having an impressive season of his own, but it pales in comparison to Dawson’s record-breaking numbers.
“You can’t stop Clifton Dawson. He’s a great back,” Knowles said. “You only hope to contain him and try to prevent the big play.”
Despite the tailback’s dynamic start to the season, Murphy sees a need for improvement in the rush attack in order to defeat the Big Red.
“We have got to run the football dramatically better than we have in the past against Cornell if we’re going to win the game,” Murphy said.
Murphy also praised junior quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who will be the first Harvard signal-caller to start two consecutive games this season.
“Chris has the potential to be a fine quarterback,” Murphy said. “He’s got all the intangibles, he’s a natural leader, he’s usually a tough kid mentally and otherwise, and he’s poised. We’re happy about our long term quarterback situation.”
Pizzotti was instrumental in the Crimson’s 35-33 win over the Mountain Hawks last Saturday. He has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 417 yards and a touchdown in two games.
His counterpart, Big Red quarterback Nathan Ford, has struggled throwing the ball in the early stages of the season. While the sophomore represents a viable running threat for the Cornell, he has completed just over half of his passes and thrown four interceptions in his first three games.
Knowles, however, is steadfast in his support of the young field general.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Knowles said. “It doesn’t mean he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s still young. He’s a great leader who can make plays with his feet and his arm.”
Ford will have to justify his coach’s conviction if the Big Red wants to knock Harvard off of its perch at the top of the Ivy League standings.
The Crimson presents a formidable challenge for Cornell, and according to Murphy, Harvard has not even reached its potential.
“We’ve done a solid job...but we’re not remotely a great team yet,” said Murphy. “We’re a very solid team that needs to improve in a number of areas to take the next step.”
Tomorrow, the Crimson looks to dispel its division foe, and in doing so take the “next step” towards its ultimate goal, the Ivy League title.