If you just look at the history, the odds are stacked pretty high against the Quakers.
Al Bagnoli is 0-10 against the Wildcats since he’s been coaching football at Penn. Villanova leads the all-time series, 11-5, but Penn’s last win was a 22-0 victory at Franklin Field in October 1911.
Still, Penn has what it takes to unseat the Wildcats this year.
On paper, it doesn’t look pretty. For one thing, the Wildcats have already played three games and are 2-1 while the Quakers have only been tested once — an ugly loss to Lafayette.
Villanova beat Fordham by 15 and Rhode Island by 21. Its only loss, in the season opener to Temple, was a 41-10 blowout in front of 32,709 (mostly) Owls fans that I’m sure the Wildcats would love to put behind them forever.
In their three games, the Wildcats have amassed 1,147 yards of total offense while holding their opponents to 877. Of their offensive total, 743 came on the ground with just 402 through the air.
It doesn’t look good. But Penn definitely has some advantages and may come up with a few surprises.
The Quakers lost a heartbreaker to Lafayette last week. They let up 21 points in the first quarter alone but came back within seven points and 50 yards of sending the game to overtime. Penn lost — but that almost doesn’t matter because of what the Red and Blue achieved.
First, the Quakers nearly doubled the Leopards’ offensive total, 423 to 236. Penn’s quarterbacks threw for 344 yards to Lafayette’s 134.
Penn has almost as many passing yards in a single game as Villanova does in three. Consequently, ’Nova relies much more on its running game than its passing game, which is the chance for the Quakers’ defense to shine.
Penn’s offensive line held up against Lafayette magnificently, and the offense lost a total of three yards on offensive plays. The Lafayette offense didn’t fare as well, as the Penn defense forced them into 14 lost yards.
If the Red and Blue defense can turn in a similar performance against a team that relies so much on its running game, it could have a chance to limit a major part of Villanova’s offense.
Secondly, Penn proved in one of the most dramatic ways possible that it’s a team with gristle. Coming back from a 21-point deficit is no easy feat, even in a game as unpredictable as football. It would have been so easy to write the game off as a loss by the second quarter, but the Quakers dug in, fought and showed they’re a team that doesn’t let up until the final whistle blows.
That counts for so much more than any number on a stat sheet. Statistics can’t reflect heart.
That Villanova beat its opponents by so many points shows the team wasn’t really tested in those games. The ’Cats took comfortable leads and settled in, and it’s much easier to coast than it is to claw your way back into a game.
The one major wild card — and what could undo all the progress Penn made last week — is the seven interceptions, and eight turnovers total, the Quakers coughed up last week.
Seven picks is never, ever a good thing. Seven picks means seven missed opportunities that could have turned the game in Penn’s favor. Villanova’s offense will likely capitalize on eight turnovers even more than Lafayette did, and Penn can’t give them those chances.
But seven picks is usually enough to make a team lose by much more than seven points. Again, that the Quakers came back — and came close to forcing overtime — is much more telling than any other number on the sheet.
All this adds up to a huge chance for Penn. This is an opportunity to do what no team in Al Bagnoli’s tenure has done: Beat Villanova.
Show the gristle, hold the line and I think this is a team that can make it happen.
ANNA STRONG is a senior English major from Haveford, Pa., and is former sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.