EASTON, Pa. — After Lafayette intercepted Billy Ragone’s second pass of the night Saturday, the competition was on for the Leopards’ defense.
Following his pick, Kasheem Hill went over to fellow defensive back Darius Safford and said, as Safford recalled, “I got one. Where’s yours?”
As it turned out, Penn was fated to make its opponent’s contest far more interesting than anticipated, throwing seven interceptions in the 28-21 defeat.
While Lafayette defenders battled for the most picks in the game, an unspoken competition gathered steam on the Red and Blue’s sideline.
After Ragone threw three picks, Andrew Holland replaced him for two drives in the first quarter. Holland relieved him for good following Ragone’s additional two interceptions early in the second half.
Holland passed the ball well, completing 18-of-28 attempts for 191 yards, but more importantly, he nearly brought his team all the way back from a 28-7 deficit.
On the decision to pass the ball 51 times, coach Al Bagnoli explained that going in, he wanted the Quakers to be “explosive” on offense and that they had planned on throwing the ball between 35 and 40 times.
The claim that Penn can be an exciting squad was not disproved Saturday night — on offense, the Quakers produced 423 yards, 344 of which came through the air — but the question now becomes which quarterback gives the Red and Blue the best chance if they expect to go to the air more often.
The answer is simple: It’s Holland.
Ragone looked best when Penn’s offense interspersed the run with the pass. Following his poor start, he led a touchdown drive in the second quarter in which he ran the ball four times and attempted seven passes, none of which were longer than 12 yards.
However, Ragone struggled when attempting to force passes downfield to Scott. He often locked onto his target, rather than going through his progressions, leading to four of the five interceptions he threw.
Despite not having Ragone’s game-time experience, Holland showed more poise in the pocket and checked down when needed. He’s the better passer of the two — even Bagnoli has admitted it — allowing him to connect on deeper balls with more consistency. During one stretch, he completed five straight passes, all 11 yards or longer.
While Ragone’s mistakes were a mixture of bad decisions and poor throws, Holland’s two picks were both the latter, and with more game experience, those can be assuaged.
Ragone and Holland already split reps at practice. With Ragone’s style of play, Bagnoli explained, Holland must be ready at any time.
But even with a healthy Ragone, the Red and Blue can benefit from the different looks their respective quarterbacks provide.
When Ragone ran the ball, he was effective, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and when he rushed well, his short passing game benefited.
Holland surprised the Leopards’ defense with his arm strength and proved he can make smart decisions.
Even though Ragone has shown the ability to lead a balanced offense in the past, if the Quakers plan on being explosive and airing it out, Andrew Holland will need to be the one under center.
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.