Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of the Big Red Sports Network, which provides excellent Cornell sports coverage throughout the year for alumni, parents, students and fans everywhere.
There has been very little to be happy about for both Columbia and Cornell’s football teams in 2014. Both teams spot 0-8 records, and neither side has been in a particularly close game this year.
But one team will finally emerge with their first victory of the season this Saturday as the Cornell Big Red (0-8, 0-5 Ivy) travel to Upper Manhattan to take on the Columbia Lions (0-8, 0-5 Ivy) in the annual Empire State Bowl.
As much as Cornell has struggled this year, it has been even worse for Columbia. While the Big Red are being outscored by 21 points per game (an of average of 34-13), the Lions are being outscored by a staggering 31 points per game, with the average being 40-9.
Not only has Columbia scored more than seven points only once all season, but also their closest game was still an 18-point loss to Yale, as they have lost 19 straight games dating back to 2012.
However, it should be noted that Cornell has not won at Lawrence A. Wien stadium since 2004 (with their loss there in 2012 being the last time Columbia won a game), so no result is certain, especially given the performance of both teams this season.
Like the Big Red, the Lions have struggled mightily to score points this year. Outside of scoring four late-game touchdowns in a 61-28 blowout loss to Monmouth earlier this season, they haven’t scored more than seven in any game. Also like Cornell, they’ve been forced to use multiple QBs.
After Brett Nottingham, a Stanford transfer and former backup to current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left the team in October, the unit has been led by Trevor McDonagh. While McDonagh has shown some good flashes in six games, it has not been nearly enough to overcome Columbia’s shoddy offensive line and complete lack of a run game.
They have only rushed for an incredibly anemic 396 yards in eight games, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry. Turnovers have also been a major problem for Columbia. Their QBs have combined to throw 18 interceptions this year, including four last week vs. Harvard, three of which were returned for touchdowns in a 45-0 loss.
However, even with Columbia’s struggles this season, after Cornell’s embarrassing 42-7 loss last week to Dartmouth they are in no position to think that this will be an easy contest. Though the offense has sputtered, sophomore QB Robert Somborn is showing some promise for the future, and his success in the passing game has given running back Luke Hagy more room to run.
This was evident last week, when Hagy scored on a long run on the Big Red’s opening possession, which gave Cornell their first opening drive touchdown of the season. If they can get out to another fast start, it would put a lot of pressure on a Lions offense that has only scored nine touchdowns the whole season.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will be crucial for Cornell to get pressure on the quarterback, an area the defense has been especially weak this season, as Columbia will look to throw the ball if their running game continues to be non-existent.
No team ever wants to finish a season without a win, and luckily for at least one of these schools, that won’t happen in 2014.
Columbia has given up more, and scored even less Cornell this year, but that will not guarantee a win for the Big Red this weekend.
This is also the Lion’s best chance for a win this season, meaning they aren’t gong the lay down and let Cornell keep the Empire State Bowl without putting up a fight. If Coach Archer want to sing “Cornell Victorious” with the Big Red Marching Band when the clock hits 0:00, it’s going to take a complete effort on both sides of the football.