Lehigh football will return to their home turf on Saturday, Sept. 16, with a game against non-conference opponent Cornell.
The Cornell game marks their third game of the season, with the Mountain Hawks looking to earn their second win after coming off a road win against Merrimack.
Cornell, who finished sixth in the Ivy League last season, will have their season opener in Bethlehem, entering Goodman Stadium as a familiar opponent. The two teams squared off last October for a mid-season clash in Ithaca. In a low-scoring game, the Big Red defeated the Mountain Hawks 19-15.
Junior Gaige Garcia said Lehigh’s rushing attack will play a significant role in Saturday’s game. The backfield consists of Garcia and senior Jack DiPietro.
In their last meeting, Lehigh’s ground game challenged Cornell’s defense, combining for 190 yards as a team.
Garcia, who rushed for 162 yards and scored a touchdown against Cornell last year, said the team will follow a similar offensive game plan despite the roster differences from last year.
“We’re hoping the ground game can be the same as last year, possibly even better,” Garcia said. “We’re going to go into the game hoping that we’re firing on all cylinders on offense.”
In addition to the ground game, Cornell must account for Lehigh’s receiving corps, headlined by senior veteran wide receivers Connor Kennedy and Eric Johnson, sophomore wide receiver Geoffrey Jamiel, and sophomore tight end Nick Williams.
Last year against Cornell, Lehigh had 184 yards through the air.
Jamiel, the 2022 Patriot League Rookie of the Year and Lehigh’s receiving yards leader last season, said the game plan would run through whatever Cornell gives them defensively while maintaining focus on themselves.
“It’s really taking what they give us,” Jamiel said. “We’re not trying to force anything, just take what’s there — and get the ball to receivers in space and let them make plays.”
As for Lehigh’s offense, Garcia said a crucial factor in their performance against Cornell is ball security. The team recently struggled to maintain possession offensively due to three turnovers against Villanova, two interceptions by sophomore quarterback Brayten Silbor and a fumble lost by Garcia.
Garcia said taking care of the ball and relaxed play are keys to success against Cornell and the rest of the season.
“Going into these next games, it’s crucial (that we) play loose and eliminate the turnovers,” Garcia said.
Lehigh’s defense will have the task of containing a balanced Cornell offense that finished seventh in the Ivy League for total offense last year.
The face of Cornell’s offense is junior dual-threat quarterback Jameson Wang. Wang led the Big Red in rushing for the 2022 season with 559 yards and eight touchdowns. He threw for an additional 1650 yards.
In last year’s matchup, Wang’s dual-threat ability showed. The quarterback scored Cornell’s only offensive touchdown and accounted for 202 yards through the air and 43 yards on the ground.
When asked about containing Wang, special teams and defensive backs coach Mike Kashurba said creating a scheme to slow down Wang and Cornell’s offense is the primary focus.
“What you’re really trying to get done is to make them uncomfortable,” Kashurba said. “Whether that be a coverage piece, a pressure or something in between.”
The rest of the offense will look slightly different from last year. With senior leading receiver Thomas Glover graduating, Cornell will rely on a receiving corps led by senior receiver Nicholas Laboy and senior tight end Matt Robbert.
Coach Kashurba said the team is preparing for Cornell by improving at practice and playing to their strengths.
“Big picture-wise, what we’re overly concerned with is getting better every day,” Kashurba said. “If we do all the right things better along the way, the results will take care of themselves.”
Lehigh-Cornell kicks off at noon at Goodman Stadium.