Zach Heller may be Penn's best defender
The Columbia game notes and two-deep are out for the Penn game. No real changes in the starting lineups that I can see. Owen Fraser remains as a “2.”
Beating Penn is a tall order but a simple one as well.
You just have to do two things: 1) Run the ball well and 2) Stop them from running the ball well.
That’s a lot easier said than done, and it’s also the way to beat just about every college football team in America.
But it’s especially true in the Quakers case, because Penn has lived well simply off of stuffing opposing runners and running the ball well on its own for the last few seasons.
The Columbia-Penn game last season at Wien Stadium was a bit of an exception, as neither team ran the ball well. But Penn QB Keiffer Garton had some flashes of brilliance as a passer and the Lions turned the ball over way too many times, (7!), for the Light Blue to win.
Garton is not the starter for Saturday, at least that’s what Coach Al Bagnoli said in the Ivy teleconference yesterday, but he could play in the game and make a difference after sitting out most of the last six months with a knee injury.
Otherwise sophomore QB Bill Ragone will do most of the work, and he is a big threat to run or pass.
Penn’s best strength is its offensive line. A very veteran and talented unit that paves the way for almost 200 yards rushing per game while allowing just two sacks all season.
The Quakers most talented runner, sophomores Lyle Marsh, is out for the season with an injury. In his place, the top two runners have been sophomores Brandon Colavita and Jeff Jack who are averaging 5.6 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively.
The Penn passing attack is a far cry from the top quality and deep running game. Ragone is throwing one interception per 17 passes, and the Quakers’ top receiver Matt Tutten is getting fewer than four catches a game. But not many teams are likely to force Penn to rely that heavily on the passing game anyway.
The defense has gone from allowing just 9.5 points per game to 18.5 so far this year. It’s still a dominant squad, led by a front seven that can just blow you off the ball game after game. And a lot of the points scored against Penn this season have been off of turnovers. But the unit is a lot more human, as the 28-point performance by Dartmouth two weeks ago would indicate. The rush defense is still holding opponents under 80 yards per game, but the secondary is allowing a more pedestrian, but still damn good, 165 yards per contest.
The trick is getting the chance to pass in the first place. Despite Penn’s great rush defense, opponents have only attempted an average of 22 passes per game against the Quakers. That may have something to do with the 12 sacks they’ve registered and a lot to do with the nearly nine minute per game time of possession edge Penn enjoys.
And the most impressive stat of all may be the 22% 3rd down conversion "success" opponents are posting against this Quaker defense. Just 11 conversions in 50 attempts. T-O-U-G-H.
Special teams are also solid. Columbia’s Luke Eddy may become the best kicker in the Ivies someday soon, but Penn’s Andrew Sampson is #1 until proven otherwise. He has missed three field goals this year, but he’s a perfect 11-11 on PAT’s. Meanwhile, the Quaker return game is excellent. Bradford Blackmon is averaging 30.2 yards per kick return. He’s a little more human with a 5.8 punt return average. Punter Scott Lopano is averaging more than 40 yards per punt.
The key weakness for Penn is turnovers, where the Quakers have a -5 turnover ratio. Interceptions in particular are killing them, and that’s really disturbing for Penn since the offense really only employs a short passing game. The Quakers have lost four of their five fumbles so far this year.
Doing the Atten-dance
My Homecoming ticket buying challenge continues. Please buy at least one additional ticket than you need for Homecoming now, get someone to use that ticket, and tell me all about here in the comments section.
Meanwhile, attendance is not just an issue for Columbia fans to debate. Check out this piece from the Daily Pennsylvanian’s “The Buzz” blog about football attendance and tailgating at Franklin Field.