When he's healthy, Sandberg makes the Quakers go
The Quakers are going through lots of changes as the team looks a lot different than what we expected to see in preseason.
The biggest difference is that starting QB Robert Irvin is out, probably for the rest of the season. He's replaced by Bryan Walker, who has been solid if unspectacular, this season and in his appearances last year.
Next, the Quakers are no longer winless after ripping Georgetown at home last weekend. The actual value of a win over the Hoyas is highly questionable these days, but a win is a win.
One thing that hasn't changed, and it's something that will be a huge factor in Saturday's game, is starting running back Joe Sandberg. The 5th year senior reclaimed his "second best tailback in the Ivies" title last week with 117 yards on just 13 carries in the Georgetown win. If Sandberg is fully recovered from hamstring problems that plagued him earlier this year, he could have a big day. Another new wrinkle is freshman rusher Michael Dimaggio, who has won the #1 backup rusher job after gaining 85 yards on the ground last weekend on just eleven carries.
The passing game under Irvin and Walker has been generally stale. As expected, senior receiver Braden Lepisto leads the team, but he only has 22 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Penn QB's are only averaging 5.2 yards per pass, so once again it's clear that Columbia will need to force Penn to throw more. But with Sandberg and Dimaggio that will be easier said than done.
It's hard to gauge Penn's defense right now because of all the turnovers the offense committed in the first three weeks of the season. The Quaker's "D" was put too far behind the eight ball on too many occasions. But it does seem like Penn is stronger against the run than they are against the pass right now. In any event, this is still a strong unit, but I think clearly not as strong as it was last year. Linebacker Joe Anastasio is Coach Bagnoli's favorite for a reason.
Special teams are much improved even though field goal kicking remains erratic. The Quakers are getting great kick and punt return averages from Chris Wynn and Marcus Lawrence, respectively. Penn is also covering kicks very well.
In short, if you stop Sandberg, you can stop Penn. But that's going to be a lot harder to do than it was just a few weeks ago now that he's 100%. Plus, we know how much trouble the Lions have had stopping anyone on the ground this season.
Going back to a classic look (CREDIT: The Helmet Project)
And here's one thing about Penn that I'm really willing to praise: the Quakers have reverted to what I have always considered to be their best helmet logo. The two-tone "P" logo is slightly different from the one they used from 1981-1991, but it's close enough.