Cornell Football

Work I produced for Slope Media, Cornell’s student-run media team. Part of my coverage was as a beat writer for the Cornell football team.

Cornell Senior Day win over Columbia

By Tim Weisberg

Big Red Shootout–Cornell receiver Grant Gellatly dives into the endzone for a touchdown in the first quarter in a game against Columbia Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field. The Big Red’s 62-41 victory over Columbia was its highest point total since 1936. (Photo by Patrick Shanahan)

Big Red Shootout–Cornell receiver Grant Gellatly dives into the endzone for a touchdown in the first quarter in a game against Columbia Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field. The Big Red’s 62-41 victory over Columbia was its highest point total since 1936. (Photo by Patrick Shanahan)

Published Nov. 12, 2011: It might have been Senior Day for the Cornell football team Saturday, but it was the performance of an underclassman that paved the way for the Big Red’s fourth win on the year.

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews set a Cornell single-game record with 521 passing yards and five touchdowns on 40 of 46 pass attempts, single-handedly carrying the offense on his shoulders in a 62-41 shootout over Columbia Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field.

Mathews’ 521 yards was just five yards short of the Ivy League single-game record set by Brown’s Michael Daugherty in 2008.

According to Big Red head coach Kent Austin, Mathews’ performance may have stood out, but it was a collective team effort that was indicative of the win.

“Jeff’s a really good player,” Austin said laughing. “ But he’s got good players around him. It always takes 11 for anyone to perform. But Jeff is just as accurate and had as good a decision-making day as any quarterback that I have been around in a long time.”

The 62 points the Big Red (4-5, 2-4 Ivy League) put up on the Lions (0-9, 0-6) was also a modern-day record for the program, breaking the previous mark of 57 points in a win over Georgetown in 2005. The last time the Big Red scored at least 60 points in a game was when they scored 74 in 1936.

But the way things started for the Big Red, it was appearing to be a long afternoon.

The Big Red appeared to have the Lions headed to a three-and-out on their first drive, but a roughing the punter penalty kept the Lions offense on the field. 10 players later, the Lions got on the board off a four-yard run from Griffin Lowry to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.

However, the Big Red bounced back less than three minutes later, tying the game at seven just before the end of the first quarter on a two-yard reverse from Luke Tasker.

The teams fought neck and neck through the first half, with the Lions scoring just before the half to take a 34-28 lead at the break.

The second half was a different story, as the Big Red defense forced three consecutive three-and-outs and scored 17 unanswered to take 45-34 lead after three quarters, outscoring the Lions 34-7 in the second half to break the game open.

“You don’t know how a game is going to play out,” said Austin. “The best laid plans most of the time get thrown out in the first quarter because everybody has a different game plan and you start making adjustments and they start making their adjustments. It just starts turning out the way it turns out and there’s no way to predict it.”

The always-modest Mathews attributed his passing success to the game plan and his receivers’ ability to find holes in the defense.

“Honestly we have receivers in our offense that get a lot of freedom to get open and when those guys are getting open it’s pretty easy to put the ball in,” said Mathews. “We have some pretty good outside receivers so it’s a lot of fun.”

Recently coined the Empire State Bowl in 2010, the Big Red earned their first win in what had been the unofficial nickname of the series for many years.

For Mathews, it was more about getting seniors like receiver Shane Savage and tight end Ryan Houska a win in their final home game, and first against Columbia.

“It means a lot because you want to remember Cornell the right way and you always tend to remember how you finish,” he said. “So for those (seniors), they finish like this and get a big win (against Columbia).”

At 4-5, the Big Red have already doubled their season win total from all of last year, and look to finish out the season at .500 for the first time since 2007 when they play at Penn next Saturday, Nov. 19.

Despite the Big Red saying goodbye to 23 seniors following next Saturday, Austin believes the seniors will have a lasting impact on the program.

“I’m really privileged to coach a great group of guys and we have had really good senior leadership this year,” he said. “And some of the culture that they’ve helped to establish and the things that they have adopted from our vision as a coaching staff, (what) they’ve been able to implement in the locker room or away from football with our team, they’ve just made an outstanding effort in that regard…they’re all great young men and they all have great futures.”


Cornell digs too big a hole to climb out of in 35-24 loss to Brown

by Tim Weisberg

Photo by Patrick Shanahan

Photo by Patrick Shanahan

Published on Oct. 22, 2011: Sometimes a great success rate in the red zone is not indicative of the outcome of a game.

That was the case for the Cornell Big Red, who scored on five of six opportunities in the red zone, but only came away with two touchdowns inside the 20 in a 35-24 loss to Brown Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field.

According to sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews, the complexion of the game is changed when getting three points as opposed to seven.

“(Brown) is a good red zone defense and we kicked three field goals (in the red zone) and those hurt us,” Mathews said. “…We’d like to punch it in and help our defense out a little bit.”

The Big Red (2-4, 0-3 Ivy League) started out strong, scoring on their first possession of the game when Mathews connected with Shane Savage for a 14-yard touchdown pass to give the Big Red a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

But the Bears (5-1, 2-1) tied the game at seven late in the first quarter on a 27-yard touchdown pass from fifth-year senior Kyle Newhall-Caballero.

And then came the first of missed opportunities. A pass interference call gave the Big Red a first and goal at the two-yard line, but the Big Red was unable to capitalize, forced to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Brad Greenway.

According to head coach Kent Austin, the Big Red can ill-afford to not capitalize that deep in the red zone.

“We’re not good enough right now to give up those types of plays, missed opportunities, and expect to beat a good football team and outscore them,” Austin said.

The Big Red went up against a Bears defense ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense, and sixth in pass defense, yet accumulated more than 400 total yards on offense, including six trips to the red zone. Mathews alone threw for 402 passing yards and two touchdowns.

But it was the plays the Big Red failed to make that ultimately hurt them.

The Bears had the ball on fourth down at the Big Red 32-yard line with the Big Red trailing 14-13. The Bears elected to go for it on fourth down, and converted before eventually scoring a touchdown to take a 21-13 lead with under a minute remaining in the first half.

“We had other opportunities prior to that…the (Brown) touchdown before the half was big and we had a chance to get them off the field and we didn’t do it,” said Austin. “We didn’t make a play.

According to defensive end Zack Imhoff, football comes down to how you overcome obstacles.

“Things aren’t always going to go your way in a football game, and it’s just how you respond,” he said.

Down 35-16 in the fourth quarter, the Big Red looked poised to make a comeback reminiscent of last week’s overtime loss to Colgate when Mathews connected with Kurt Ondash for a 17-yard touchdown pass, and a two-point conversion cut the lead to 35-24 with 7:15 remaining in the fourth.

But once again, on third down, the Bears converted to keep their drive alive, not relinquishing the ball until a fumble gave the Big Red possession with under two minutes to play.

The Big Red hope to snap their six game losing streak in Ivy League play when they travel to Princeton, N.J. to take on the Tigers next Saturday, Oct. 29.

For Austin, the Big Red need to be able to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves throughout the 60 minutes of play.

“It’s always several plays in a game that turn a football game, and we’ve got to learn to turn the game in those situations (and) keep a game within reason,” he said. “

“(Brown) went two for two on fourth-down conversions, they had two or three big plays on us and the next thing you know we’re at a huge deficit. We’ve got to get over the hump in those areas, and when a play is there to be made we have to make the play.”


Cornell has redemption-filled weekend over Wagner

By Tim Weisberg

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Published Oct.1, 2011: After a 41-7 loss to Wagner last season, it almost appeared personal as Cornell avenged a 34-point loss to the Seahawks en route to a 31-7 victory Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field.

But according to head coach Kent Austin,  no grudges were held.

“We don’t focus on anything in the past,” Austin said. “Every game is a different game. Every game takes on a new complexion.”

And the game took on the complexion of a blowout early. The Seahawks (1-4) fumbled the ball late in the first quarter, and the Big Red (2-1, 0-1 Ivy League) took over at the Seahawks’ 20-yard line.

Four plays later, sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews connected with Nick Mlady on a six-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead with 4:18 left in the first quarter.

The Big Red blocked two punts and forced three fumbles, and the defense recorded eight sacks, the most by the Big Red since posting a school-record 10 at Harvard in 1992.

And the second-most sacks in a game in team history came from the same Big Red defense that recorded no sacks last week at Yale.

According to Big Red defensive end Zack Imhoff, getting pressure on the quarterback was the defense’s top priority in practice.

“The key for us all week was to start getting after the pass rusher,” Imhoff said.

“Last week against Yale we didn’t get after them at all, and that strains the whole defense…so it all starts up front. As much pressure as we can get, the better for us.”

Imhoff recorded three and a half sacks, and blocked a key punt that gave the Big Red the ball inside the Seahawks’ five-yard line midway through the second quarter.

“That was a crazy play wasn’t it?” said Imhoff, referring to the Seahawks’ Nick Linehand being tackled 25 yards back from where he recovered the blocked punt.

With the Big Red already matching last season’s win total (two) after three weeks, coach Austin likes what he sees from his team, yet comes into each week ready for some element of surprise.

“I’ve been here long enough not to expect anything,” he said with a chuckle.

“I’m just real proud with where we’re at and with what the guys are doing.”

Mathews also backed his head coach, remaining adamant that today’s game against Wagner was not personal.

“We never talked about last year,” he said. “That wasn’t important to us because we know we’re moving forward here. Last year’s just not a big deal anymore.”

The Big Red host Harvard next Saturday, Oct. 8, hoping to win its first conference game.

And according to Mathews, the Big Red highly anticipates the Crimson’s arrival to Ithaca.

“We’ve been waiting for Harvard for a long time,” he said.

“…When it’s Harvard, you put a big smile on your face because we’re ready and we want to play them bad.”

While the win against the Seahawks may not be a shot of redemption as perceived by many, Imhoff believes it gives them the confidence to believe they can compete every week.

“I think it’s just a morale builder,” he said. “We all feel like we can play with everybody now.”


Coach Austin’s gutsy call against Yale gains respect among players

By Tim Weisberg

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Published Sept. 30, 2011: Cornell head football coach Kent Austin looked to pull a rabbit out of a hat Saturday afternoon against Yale.

Questionable, gutsy, wrong, Austin elected to attempt an onside kick trailing 17-10 midway through the third quarter, and appeared to have everyone fooled, except the one Bulldog defender who stayed alert, recovering the ball and swinging momentum the other way.

“At the end of the day, I love that call,” sophomore Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews said in a phone interview. “He wants to get the ball in the offense’s hands and has that confidence in us to go down and score.”

And confidence is exactly what the typically conservative coach had. However, the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 Ivy League) ended up scoring on the short field to take a 23-10 lead.

Although the Big Red (1-1, 0-1) bounced back on the next drive to cut the lead to 23-17, the gutsy call was a microcosm for a day that was not meant to be in a 37-17 loss that was nationally televised on VERSUS.

Big Red cornerback Rashad Campbell returned the opening kick off 102 yards for a score, only to have the play negated by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Mathews threw behind his intended receiver, and the pass was tipped and intercepted by the Bulldogs’ Nick Okano.

A costly penalty to start, an untimely turnover soon after, a call with momentum on their side gone wrong, the Big Red were inevitably dealt their fate: a tough loss in New Haven, Conn.

Mathews not only liked Austin electing to gain the ball right back on the onside kick, but also preached the importance of winning the field possession battle.

“When you’re down, it gives you another possession,” he said. “That [Yale] player just made a good play on it.”

And the long road of a season does not get any easier when the Big Red host Wagner tomorrow afternoon.

The Seahawks were the same team that spoiled Kent Austin’s debut as the Big Red head coach, blowing out the Big Red 41-7 in their 2010 season opener.

But for Mathews, the loss to Wagner to start the 2010 season is simply water under a bridge.

“That [loss to Wagner] was so long ago to be honest–our first game of the year, our first game under Coach Austin,” he said. “I feel that we have come so far since then that it’s hard to look back on that game and believe that was our [same] team.”

The Seahawks are 1-3 and come in as the losers of three straight, but that will not stop the Big Red from making the game mean any more or any less to them.

“We don’t want to make this one game an indicator of our season,” said Mathews.

“There’s a long year [ahead of us] and we’re going to have lots of ups and downs, and hopefully it’s going up from now on.”


Cornell football: Establishing a culture of winning

Cornell head coach Kent Austin speaks with players before a practice at Schoellkopf Field. Austin enters his second year as head coach, hoping to improve on last season’s 2-8 campaign. (Photo by Dave Burbank)

By Tim Weisberg

Published Sept. 11, 2011: It may be preaching to the choir when emphasizing the importance of establishing a culture of winning in any collegiate program, but the sense of urgency for change is evident for the Cornell football team.

They enter their second year under head coach Kent Austin, and after a 2-8 and seventh place Ivy League finish in his first season, Austin is in the grueling process of turning the program around.

Although inheriting a team that has not had a winning season since 2005, or finished higher than second in the Ivy League since 2000, Austin’s philosophy towards establishing a new culture has not changed.

“The expectations are always the same,” Austin said. “They’re pretty high…I think in this profession you have to believe you can go out and win every game. It doesn’t mean that you always will. But our goals are pretty simple as a team and that’s just to be champions.”

Despite boasting 33 players that had never played a down of collegiate football in 2010, the Big Red found a hidden gem: quarterback Jeff Mathews. Mathews became the first player to start as a true freshman in the program’s history, and did not disappoint, a unanimous pick for the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award.

The Big Red also return two of their top receivers from last season: Luke Tasker, who grabbed 39 receptions for 448 yards, and senior Shane Savage, who led the team in receptions (46) and yards (550). Mathews also has a third target with tight end Ryan Houska.

According to Mathews, it will be important to complement the offense with production from players like Tasker, Houska and Savage.

“We got to have more completions this year and definitely push the ball down field,” he said. “We want to have more explosive plays, and I feel like this off-season we worked on deeper routes…”

On the defensive side, the Big Red lost Emani Fenton to graduation, but senior Rashad Campbell, who started all 10 games at the other corner position and was fourth on the team in tackles (58), returns.

28 freshman join the squad, and the team is still very young, with only 23 seniors on the roster. And establishing winning ways in Ithaca remains a daunting task.

But Mathews and the rest of the team are aware of the expectations brought forth upon them, especially when asked if he knew that Cornell has never won an outright Ivy League title.

“We’re very aware of that in our locker room,” he said. “That we have never won an outright Ivy League championship. And that’s one of our goals. Always. Since Coach Austin’s been here, we expect to be a very good team year in and year out.”

Picked to finish seventh in the Ivy League, not much is expected from the Big Red, but within the program, expectations are always at a peak high, even if that peak overlooks a valley of critics.

The Big Red open the regular season at home against Bucknell this Saturday at 6 p.m.

For Austin, it starts with the ability to consistently play at a high level to establish a cultural identity within a program.

“It’s one thing to reestablish a culture of high expectations and a belief in the ability to win, but you need some good things on the field to happen to solidify that,” he said.

“To come in behind it and for that to really entrench into and to take hold of…I think that once that happens, which it will, then you are going to see the whole water level of excellence rise in this football program.”


Cornell football holds high expectations in preparation for spring football game

by Tim Weisberg 

Cornell football looks to have a bounce back year after a disappointing 2-8 campaign in 2010. (Photo by Patrick Shanahan).

Cornell football looks to have a bounce back year after a disappointing 2-8 campaign in 2010. (Photo by Patrick Shanahan).

Published April 25, 2011: Anticipation may be making the Cornell football program patiently wait, but the Big Red are highly eager to showcase a new and improved 2011 squad.

The Kent Austin tenure begins year two, hoping to bounce back from a rough 2-8 campaign in 2010. However, sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews, who will be competing with senior Adam Curry for the starting bid behind center, feels the team has learned a great deal from last season.

“We’re a lot better than we were last year,” Mathews said in a phone interview. “I can tell you that right now. We’re a lot more athletic upfront at the line. I think our defense is playing well and guys on offense are a lot more talented…we’re very excited about the possibilities of the future.”

The Big Red’s 12.4 points per game average in 2010 was dead last in the Ivy League, but they also return nine starters, including veteran wide receivers Luke Tasker and Shane Savage, along with tight end Ryan Houska, a trio that combined for 1,266 receiving yards and five touchdowns. With an improved line, Mathews is confident he can receive the protection he needs from a line that allowed a league-worst 48 sacks.

“That’s the name of the game,” he said. “You get pressure on the quarterback and protect the quarterback. It gives your offense the best chance to succeed, and if you can disrupt their passing game, you have a good chance to win the game.”

On the defensive end, the Big Red loses cornerback Emani Fenton and outside linebacker Brandon Lainhart, but return six starters, including lockdown corner Rashad Campbell. Fenton will be a big blow, considering he led the team with five interceptions, but according to head coach Kent Austin, the spring is a time when the team can switch players around, both on the offensive and defensive end.

“Spring is used to experiment with players in different positions,” Austin said in a phone interview. “We moved quite a few players to other positions to see if it would improve the overall football team, see if we could strengthen some positions where we might be thin and to see if we can work at getting the best 11 guys on each side of the ball.”

The Big Red hope people in the Cornell community can witness the progress being made during the annual spring football game on April 30. According to Mathews, the team is looking to make a few explosive plays during the spring game, a key

component that was missing from last season.

“I feel with our (offensive) line up front being much better, much more athletic, I feel that will give us a little bit more time to stretch the field a little bit,” he said.

But Mathews also realizes that the team still has progress to make if it wants to capture its first outright Ivy League Championship in program history, and first since 1990.

“This could be their (upperclassman’s) last opportunity to go out and win an Ivy League championship and there’s no mystery that’s what we’re trying to do…” said Mathews. “We have a long way to go. By no means are we at the level that we want to be but I think we know that level is very attainable for us…we have high expectations for this year and we’re ready to fulfill those.”

The Big Red’s annual spring game on April 30 will kick off at 3 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field, as the Big Red look to put together their first winning season since 2005. And for Mathews, it begins with Austin under the helm.

“Anytime you get the opportunity to learn from someone like Coach Austin, it’s a very big opportunity for all of us quarterbacks and as a team,” he said. “I think we’re in a very good position and I think coach Austin has improved this team tremendously and we look forward to this upcoming year.”


Red football lose to No. 16 Penn in season finale

By Tim Weisberg

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Courtesy: Cornell Athletic Communications

Published Nov. 20, 2010: The Red were the true underdog story heading into their season-ending game against Penn, but they did not create a Hollywood ending or play the role of Cinderella, losing to the No. 16-ranked Quakers (9-1, 7-0 Ivy League) in a 31-7 blowout at Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon.

The Red (2-8, 1-6) were held to less than 200 yards of total offense, and continued to struggle defending against the run, giving up 282 yards on the ground.

According to freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews, it was a difficult season across the board, especially for seniors transitioning under a new system.

“It’s tough because you want to send these [seniors] out the right way…I mean the right way of winning a [Ivy League] championship, doing something that’s big,” Mathews said. “And it’s tough because they deserve that, and obviously we were not able to do that.”

The Red finished with the same record under Austin as they did under his predecessor Jim Knowles: 2-8. But for seniors like Red defensive back Emani Fenton where it is hard to leave as seniors with a 2-8 finish, Fenton also believes that the Kent Austin Era has been short lived and the team will continue to get better.

“I feel bad for the rest of my seniors, but the good thing is that once you’re part of this Cornell football family, you’re part of [it],” Fenton said. “So when we get this thing turned around…I think that all the seniors can say that we’re champions as well.”

The mentality exists among the Red players that a championship is not a farfetched goal, but for Austin, the dedication to excellence also has to exist to make a championship a reality.

“We got to be more disciplined, we have to be more focused and we have to be more committed,” Austin said. “The whole entire water level of everything we are doing has to rise several levels for us to be able to compete in this league.”

Despite the 2-8 season, including only one win in Ivy League play, Austin believes the team has matriculated throughout the course of the season.

“I think we made a lot of progress in areas that don’t always show up to the outside [observer]…we’re tying to change the culture here,” said Austin. “We’re trying to teach our guys what it means to compete, what it means to prepare at a different level, what it means to finish, what it means to practice hard. All of those things.”

The Red lose eight starters next season, including Fenton and three starters on the offensive line, as Austin hopes to set a precedence for winning as his tenure with the Red progresses.

But until then, Austin believes it starts with a tough off-season if the returning players ever want to be in Penn’s shoes.

“I think the vast majority of our guys now know what the expectation level is and they better get ready for a pretty hard off-season,” said Austin. “We’re going to find out who really wants to commit…we’re going to bring along guys that really want to be football players.”


Red offensive woes continue, lose to Dartmouth at home for first time since ‘98

by Tim Weisberg 

Published Nov. 6, 2010: Two plays on the Red’s opening drive and two penalties later set the tone for a pattern of inconsistency, as the Red failed to climb the Ivy League standings in a 28-10 loss to Dartmouth at Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon.

The Red (2-6, 1-4 Ivy League) appeared destined to go on the board first midway through the first quarter, inside the Big Green (5-3, 2-3) red zone. However, freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews was hit from behind, fumbling the ball and turning it over to the Big Green.

According to the Roger J. Weiss ’61 head coach of football Kent Austin, the Red had chances to score early, but mistakes offensively have cost the Red to capitalize on drives throughout the season.

“We had our opportunities in the first half to score more points,” Austin said. “[But] that’s kind of been our identity so far this year. I mean we move the ball, we get a penalty, move the ball and get a holding call.”

The Red are currently 114th out of 117 FCS teams in points per game, averaging a measly 12.5 points a game, which to Austin has been the Red’s major inhibitor to their 2-6 season.

“We need to do better on offense to control the football and that’s our biggest issue,” said Austin. “We’ve got to score more points to help our defense.”

The Red had 188 yards of total offense, compared to the 347 yards put up by the Big Green, and the

offensive line allowed ten sacks.

According to Austin, this puts Mathews in a very difficult position leading the offense, where sacks by the Big Green often put the Red in third-and-long situations.

“We’ve been a pretty good third-down conversion team, but [if] we can’t protect the quarterback, it’s going to be a long day,” said Austin.

The Red was trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, but an Emani Fenton interception gave the Red the ball inside the red zone.

One play later, the Red had tied the game up at seven. The Red actually led 10-7 at halftime, ending on a positive note when Red kicker Brad Greenway nailed a 49-yard yarder to give the Red the lead just before halftime.

But the Red allowed the Big Green to score on the opening possession of the second half, which featured five punts, an interception and a turnover on downs on 44 yards of total offense.

Red tight end Ryan Houska could not help but praise the Big Green’s performance in the second half.

“I mean we came out [in the second half] and they answered and they had a nice [opening] drive,” Houska said. “I give [Dartmouth] all the credit in the world. They deserved it.”

The Red travel to New York City next week to take on the 3-5 Columbia Lions, before finishing their season at home against first-place and No. 19-ranked Penn.

According to Austin, the offense must improve if the Red is to have a chance against the Lions and an upset against the Quakers.

“Right now, we’ve got to…be creative enough on offense to put our players in a position to be successful…and help our defense,” said Austin. “It’s hard to win a game when you score 10 points.”


Coast-to-Coast with Jeff Mathews

by Tim Weisberg 

Published Oct. 21, 2010: The line of succession has been put to use in an injury-depleted Red football lineup. And the role of the admiral, the quarterback position, welcomes another successor.

Freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews was supposed to play a back-up role this season. But there’s a reason teams have substitutes waiting in line to crack the number one spot. A broken right arm to junior Adam Currie in the Red’s first game of the season at Wagner allowed Mathews to take on a new role: starting quarterback. And while injuries come and go in Ithaca, freshman signal callers certainly do not. In just week two of his collegiate career, Mathews became the first freshman quarterback ever to start for the Red.

But according to Mathews, you have to be ready for the line of succession to be put in place.

“You have to prepare like you’re a starter at any position on this football team,” said an upbeat Mathews before practice, helmet in hand.

“And when that opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it.”

At 1-4, the Red is 1-3 with Mathews at the helm and while it might not appear that he has taken advantage of his increased workload, Red head coach Kent Austin sees something special in Mathews that is uncanny.

“I think what’s unusual for Jeff as a freshman is that he is very diligent in his preparation,” Austin said.

“He wants to be a student of the game. He wants to know the why, not just the what behind what we’re doing and understand things conceptually.”

According to Austin, Mathews has acclimated very well to his leadership role, even if that role is taken through the first five games of his collegiate career.

“He cares about his teammates,” said Austin. “I think that comes out naturally.”

Cornell running back Nick Booker-Tandy knows what it’s like to move up the line of succession and attain the number one spot—injuries to the Red backfield boosted Booker-Tandy up the depth chart this season as well. According to Booker-Tandy, Mathews has risen to the occasion.

“He has acquired that leadership and over the past few games has stepped up to the plate like a Hall of Fame batter,” the Lafayette College transfer said.

But Mathews’ role as a leader has not been anything new for him. The Camarillo, Calif. native passed for 3,314 yards and 37 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions as a senior in high school. He was also the captain of the Camarillo High School basketball team, earning multiple letters.

Now Mathews is taking on that same role almost 3,000 miles away. From coast to coast, Mathews has found a way to make an impact, evident in the approval and praise from coaches and teammates. Matthews garnered interest from Pac-10 schools, and even from BCS-buster Boise State and Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference.

But Cornell offered him the possibility to compete for a starting job, and a top-tier education. And less than one full game into his freshman season, he is having his cake and eating it too.

“Ultimately, to get a good education, an Ivy League education, it’s priceless,” said Mathews.

”You can’t get that everywhere, and that was a big part of my decision process.”

Mathews is currently in the College of Arts and Sciences, and could not escape the allure of an education at a prestigious Ivy League school. The west-coast kid appears to fit in quite well, and his teammates are confident in his leadership abilities and willingness to matriculate as a player.

“He voices his opinion when he needs to,” said Booker-Tandy.

“He’s going to be a great leader for the Cornell football team in the coming years.”


Red drop home opener to Yale 21-7

by Tim Weisberg 

Published Sept. 25, 2010: Two things inhibit success on the football field: turnovers and the inability to convert opponent’s turnovers into points.

The Red (0-2, 0-1 Ivy League) showed why turnovers and missed opportunities have a tendency to cost you significantly in a 21-7 loss to Yale (2-0, 1-0) on the Red’s homecoming Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field.

The loss to the Bulldogs marked the 10th straight for the Red dating back to last season, who are still winless in the Kent Austin era.

According to Austin, the Red is not a skilled enough team to win games where they cough up the football and allow their opponents to capitalize.

“We’re not good enough right now to turn the ball over and give up big plays,” said Austin.

The Red had two turnovers, which resulted in 14 points for the Bulldogs. The Red forced two turnovers, both picks by senior cornerback Emani Fenton, but failed to capitalize and turn those turnovers into points.

The Red trailed the Bulldogs 7-0, but tied the game on freshman quarterback Jeff Matthews’s 11-yard swing pass to junior running back Nick Booker-Tandy.

Mathews completed 23 of 35 passes for 248 yards and became the first freshman signal caller to start a game in school history. Mathews took over the top spot on the depth chart when junior Adam Curry suffered a broken arm in last week’s 41-7 loss at Wagner.

According to Mathews, what means the most to him is getting that all-important “W.”

“It doesn’t mean much to be the first freshman to start a game [at quarterback] but I think it would mean a little something to be the first freshman [quarterback] to win a game,” said Mathews. “…That’s the goal. It’s not to start games, it’s to win them.”

Although the Red were tied at seven at the half, a Matthews interception and fumble on a punt return by Luke Tasker gave the Bulldogs excellent field position, and they capitalized scoring touchdowns on both drives to put the game out of reach.

According to coach Austin, winning the turnover battle is one of the most important factors that lead to a win.

“All studies show…that the two most important stats are turnover ration and the number of big plays,” Austin said. “If you win both those categories, your probabilities go through the roof of winning a football game and we’re losing both of them right now.”

The Red are looking to make some adjustments under Austin’s regime, both offensively and defensively. The Red have only scored 14 points in their first two games, and have given up over 500 yards on the ground defensively.

However, according to Mathews, success on offense comes down to leaving no long drive unfinished.

“We got to finish drives and that’s simple for us,” Mathews said. “We got to finish drives and once we do that, we’ll score a lot more points.”

The Red look to bounce back from a tough loss on homecoming when they travel to Bucknell to take on the Bison next Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m.

And despite the 0-2 start, Austin has been impressed with underclassman taking over starting roles due to injuries, the most notable example being Matthews at quarterback.

“[We’re] proud of all of them,”Austin said. “…We’re challenging them to grow and we’re challenging them to get better.”