The football team will travel to Ithaca, N.Y., to square off against Cornell tomorrow in a battle between two of the Ivy League's most high-powered passing attacks. Led by sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews, the Big Red's (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) offense averages 290.6 yards per game through the air. But Brown (4-1, 1-1) ranks sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing defense, and has only surrendered 157.8 yards per game. Something will have to give at Schoellkopf Field.
"They have a really dangerous quarterback," said co-captain defensive lineman Kyle Rettig '12. "He's big, can sit in the pocket, and he's really accurate and has a strong arm."
Mathews threw for 328 yards in an overtime loss last week to Colgate University. The week before, he threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort against Harvard. The Big Red offense is averaging 26.2 points per game.
"As a defensive line, we definitely have to put pressure on (Mathews), and our secondary has to step up," Rettig said. "Their record isn't that great, but they're still a very good team."
But if any defense in the Ivy League can contain Cornell's passing attack, it could be the Bears'. The Bruno defense recorded its first shutout since 1990 in last week's 34-0 demolition of Princeton, and on the season, has held opposing offenses to only 15.6 points per game.
"We just did our job," Rettig said of the defensive play against the Tigers. "We were executing very well, and it's something that we were finally able to do as a team, so we really need to keep that going."
The defense has seen standout performers on all fronts thus far. Matthew O'Donnell '12 and last week's Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week Dan Smithwick '12 have stepped up in the linebacking corps to lead the team in tackles. In the secondary, safety Stephen Peyton '12 and cornerback A.J. Cruz '13 have built off strong 2010 campaigns, and the defensive line has been able to consistently get into opposing teams' backfields. The line is led by Rettig and Clayton McGrath '11.5, both of whom have five tackles for losses.
On the other side of the ball, the Brown offense has been equally potent, and the game has the potential to turn into a shootout. Co-captain quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11.5 is playing with the form that won him First Team All-Ivy quarterback honors in 2009, averaging 244.4 yards per game with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has spread the ball around to a talented group of receivers, led by Alex Tounkara-Kone '11.5 (24 catches, 353 yards, 3 TDs) and Tellef Lundevall '13 (29 catches, 322 yards, 4 TDs). Tounkara-Kone and Lundevall can create mismatches, and behind them, Jimmy Saros '12 and Jonah Fay '12 have made big catches, as well.
"It's a very egotistical position, because you have to always think you're open," Tounkara-Kone said. "But in our case, usually most of the guys are open."
"We have a lot of talent," Fay said of the team's receiving corps. "Pretty much anywhere (Newhall-Caballero) wants to throw it is often a good option."
The Big Red defense these receivers will be lining up against has struggled this year, surrendering an average of 26.6 points per game. But Tounkara-Kone said the Bears' offense cannot be complacent in its preparation. He said in last year's game Cornell changed its entire defensive game plan against the Bears, and the offense had to adapt to different schemes than what they had seen on tape.
At the half-way point in the season, Rettig said the team has found an identity categorized by both hard work and a team unity that extends across all sides of the ball.
"In the past, the defense would be upset if the offense had a three and out," Rettig said. But this year, he said, "We always have each other's backs out there, and I'd say that's kind of been our mantra."
With Harvard, Yale and Penn all undefeated through two games in the Ivy schedule, tomorrow's game is a must-win for the Bears.
"In the Ivy League, every week is a dangerous time because we only have seven in-conference opponents," Tounkara-Kone said. "No matter who you play, no matter the week, you have to win that game."
The Harvard loss Sept. 23 dug the Bears an early hole, but the team will look to build off its recent strong play as it heads down the stretch in the five remaining conference games.
"We've already made our mistake," Fay said, "And we can't afford to make another one."