Though Lafayette isn’t part of the Ancient Eight, the Penn football team knows its opponent about as well as any Ivy foe.
For the third straight year, the Quakers open their season against the Leopards, marking the 89th meeting between the two programs.
“We know their tendencies … They’ve been doing the same things for a while now, so that’s definitely an advantage,” redshirt junior Conner Scott said.
Despite the familiarity, it won’t be an easy opener for the Red and Blue, who have lost four of the last five against Lafayette, including a 37-12 defeat at home last season.
The Leopards already have a game under their belt this season, a 17-14 win at William & Mary, which puts Penn “a little bit behind coming right out of the gate,” coach Al Bagnoli said.
“Historically, that first game, it’s a little bit uncertain … how you’re going to play, how your young kids react,” he said.
But the Quakers won’t have many young players taking the field on Saturday, as they return 17 starters.
Leading the offense is senior quarterback Billy Ragone, who threw for 1,860 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The offensive line gave up 14 sacks a year ago, and while Ragone is known to scramble, he’ll get much better protection this season. Four out of five starters return to the line.
Ragone will also be surrounded by offensive weapons in both the running and passing games.
Scott returns to the wide receiver position after suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason last year. He’ll have to compete for playing time with senior wide receivers Joe Holder and Ryan Mitchell.
“I think I bring the hands and the route running, that’s how I separate myself from those two,” Scott said.
The ground game is also stacked, with seniors Brandon Colavita, Jeff Jack and Lyle Marsh dominating the backfield.
The defensive side for the Quakers is anchored by senior defensive lineman and captain Brandon Copeland, who had 96 tackles and five sacks in the last two seasons combined.
Copeland and his defense will have to step up against senior quarterback Andrew Shoop, who threw for 230 yards against the Quakers in last year’s opener. He was named the Patriot League’s Offensive Player of the Week for the third time after going 18-for-33 for 189 yards and a touchdown last weekend.
“[Shoop] makes really good decisions,” Bagnoli said. “He gets the ball out of his hands really fast … He really understands what they’re trying to do so he goes to the right guy. And he’s got enough athletic ability that if you do pressure him and he can escape, he can hurt you.”
On defense, the Leopards held William & Mary to just 10 first downs and 197 yards and forced two turnovers. The Quakers actually amassed more yards than Lafayette in their matchup last season, 355-335.
Come Saturday, however, the Red and Blue have a clean slate, and unlike last year, Scott said, they enter the season with a level head and a new attitude that will help them start the year off strong.
“Less cocky, more confident.”
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