Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring Preview: Penn

Garton and Penn's Job #1: Stay healthy

Spring practice has begun... at Penn. The defending champion Quakers are the first to start the crucial offseason workouts and their spring game will be on April 10th.
(Columbia's spring game is Friday NIGHT April 23rd).

The Quakers already have some breaking news coming out of their camp. Running backs Matt Hamscher and Bradford Blackmon may move over to defensive side, or at least try to play both ways in the secondary. Hamscher and Blackmon have both battled injuries through their careers so far, but Penn is apparently trying to cover all its bases since its two 1st Team All Ivy corners, Chris Wynn and Jonathan Moore, are graduating.

This is an obvious vote of confidence in rising sophomore running back Lyle Marsh, who also battled injuries a bit last year but was impressive as a freshman in 2009.

But let's face it, defense won the championship for Penn last season. The 2009 All Ivy Defense reads like a Quaker press release. But in addition to the loss of Moore and Wynn, Penn is also graduating Joe Goniprow and Jake Lewko who were also All Ivy 1st Teamers.

I do think Penn will be better offensively in 2010, provided the Quakers avoid the rash of injuries that hurt their offense last year. They have all their starting offensive linemen returning, and three of them were All Ivy. That's a compelling reason to believe Penn will be able to score or at least mount long drives this coming season.

But the defense will almost certainly not be as dominant next season. It'll be darn good, with a bunch of rising seniors making 2nd Team and Honorable Mention All Ivy in 2009, but just not as tough. Considering how close the key wins over Harvard and Brown were for Penn, even a slightly weaker defense could derail the Quakers' chances.

Coach Al Bagnoli pointed out the obvious in an interview this week when he said the Quakers will need to focus on improving the passing game this spring. Other than Brown, just about every Ivy team has been moving away from a pro-style passing game. And it doesn't seem like Penn has the horses to change that trend. If QB Keiffer Garton stays healthy, there shouldn't be too much of a need to change up what worked for Penn last year. The only wildcard is if the Quaker defense really takes a step down and Penn finds itself well behind early in several games and is forced to throw the ball more. I just don't see that happening right now.

A lot of the preparation in this league is based on what the top teams are doing. Harvard has been Penn's focus for years now and the Crimson look somewhat like Penn in that they will also be leaning on rising sophomore Trevor Scales to power the offense in 2010. But unlike the Quakers, Harvard has transfer Andrew Hatch from LSU waiting in the wings to show what he can do against Ivy secondaries. That might be producing a bit of "passing game envy" in Philadelphia.

A QB wildcard is rising sophomore Bill Ragone but he too, seems to be a talented runner with perhaps a little less to offer as a pure passer than a Hatch or a Kyle Newhall Caballero at Brown. I also think Ragone won't play much unless Garton gets injured again.

Another wildcard is the incoming freshmen class, which won't be participating in spring practice of course. But wide receivers and QB's don't usually play as freshmen under Bagnoli. Marsh was a running back and even he needed some injuries to other players to climb the depth chart.

Overall, Penn has to like its chances. Even with the key defenders graduating, this is a very experienced and talented group for a defending champ. If I were Bagnoli, I wouldn't push too hard on creating a deep passing attack and focus more on getting that secondary ready and the linebacker corps accustomed to whoever takes over as their coach.


At Thu Mar 18, 04:59:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call it irrational, or call it sour grapes, but the one team I literally just can't abide is Penn, and the one coach I just can't stomach is Bagnoli. They can't lose enough as far as I am concerned.

At Thu Mar 18, 12:17:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a neophite....what is the basis for this disdain for Bagnoli? I have no problem jumping on the bandwagon....just need to know the beef...

At Thu Mar 18, 08:14:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poaching of our players (Bergen Catholic NJ all state defensive tackle had committed to Columbia until Bags bad mouthed us and had the kid switch), sideline incident at Franklin Filed before game time several years ago when his out of control assistants told our kids we had a bush league program, intimidating refs by throwing temper tantrums on the sidelines, -- and that's for starters

At Thu Mar 18, 09:18:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bagnoli is a jerk (I interned in Penn's athletic department in the early 90's) but anyone who played for CU back in the 80's would agree that compared to the other Ivies we really did have a bush league program because we had nearly zero support from the school. I don't mean that as a slight on any of the players or coaches, except for the one coach who was a complete embarassment to CU, and I don't mean Garrett

At Thu Mar 18, 10:18:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sovern/Cole gave athletics zero support, and in fact were a huge negative--the crime of the century was giving up a portionof Baker Field for the Allen Pavilion, which I can lay right on the doorstep of those two disasters. Rupp and Bollinger are much better.

At Thu Mar 18, 10:39:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I actually thought Sovern and Cole were better than the guys who ran athletics in the 70's. The Allen Pavilion issue at Baker Field was a killer... but for parking more than I think the development of the sports teams. Remember it was under Sovern that Wien Stadium and some other key upgrades took place. I think Rupp was very strong for athletics, and probably the best in our generation.

At Fri Mar 19, 01:17:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, We did Wien despite Sovern, not because of him. The funds to build the new stadium came from an enormous fund drive among CC alumni to which I'm proud to say I contributed. And we frankly had no choice, since Baker Field was falling apart. As you might have gathered I am no fan of Sovern's. Rupp was a huge improvement, as is Lee.

At Fri Mar 19, 01:18:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, We did Wien despite Sovern, not because of him. The funds to build the new stadium came from an enormous fund drive among CC alumni to which I'm proud to say I contributed. And we frankly had no choice, since Baker Field was falling apart. As you might have gathered I am no fan of Sovern's. Rupp was a huge improvement, as is Lee.

At Fri Mar 19, 01:46:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have any special love for Sovern, but I've always felt he may have been the right person at the right time. When Sovern took the presidency in 1980 the university and the city and just endured a harrowing decade financially and in terms of lost prestige. We were still an all-male college with a first year class of 750 with selectivity and financial aid at the bottom of the league. Sovern brought coeducation and financial stability, and thereby made the incredibly successfull last two decades possible. Several of his decisions such as Allen Pavilion were regrettable, but when you look at the big picture you have to say he and Cole walked the university back from a decline into mediocrity. I believe the fact that he and Cole were lifetime Columbians helped them be more effective even if we don't like everything they did. The university could easily have gone further downhill under different leadership.


At Fri Mar 19, 01:53:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS to my last comment. In terms of smart decisions, Sovern sold the land under Rockefeller Center for $400 million in 1985 when the Japanese bought it for top dollar (in those days) and put those monies into the stock market. That was a smart move in hindsight, so let's give him some credit there.


At Fri Mar 19, 04:32:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Sovern and Cole, my earlier critical comments were limited to athletics. I am prepared to concede that they made valuable contributions in other areas during a difficult time.


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