Don’t you hate it when you’re looking for that last piece of the puzzle and you just can’t seem to find it?
Such has been the story of Penn’s football team early in 2012. And while the Quakers still haven’t found that final piece, they’re getting close.
After Penn’s 28-21 win over Dartmouth in its first Ivy matchup of the year, Penn coach Al Bagnoli described his team as a “work in progress.”
“We’re still trying to find our total identity, trying to fit all the pieces in this puzzle, but today was a good step forward,” Bagnoli said.
And while the victory over the Big Green helped answer a lot of questions about who exactly these Quakers are, we still don’t know everything.
What we do know though, is the 2012 squad is a power football team that operates best with a run-first mentality — not when it passes the ball 51 times as it did in a season-opening loss to Lafayette.
And despite everything one can say about quarterback Billy Ragone’s pristine performance passing the football Saturday — 14-for-18, 165 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions — it’s with his feet that he made the biggest plays.
Ragone was second on the team with 60 yards on 14 carries and converted six third downs alone by keeping the ball for himself. This includes a crucial, game-sealing first down on 3rd and 4 with less than three minutes left.
But, even as Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said after the game, “Ragone was the key,” his success carrying the ball was just part of a general statement by the Quakers’ backfield.
Against Dartmouth, Bagnoli’s players went for 207 yards on 49 carries. In comparison, they rushed 57 times for 237 yards in two games combined against Lafayette and Villanova.
Heck, even Andrew Holland, Penn’s backup quarterback usually considered the anti-Ragone for being a “purer” pocket passer, had a better game running the ball than passing it in his one-drive cameo. He rushed 22 yards on three carries but completed 1-of-3 passes.
It’s true, ‘The Stable’ — senior running backs Brandon Colavita, Lyle Marsh and Jeff Jack — was not entirely on display against the Big Green. Colavita was knocked out of the game in the opening sequence of play and Marsh “was coming in a little bit bruised, so we were cautious about how much we were going to carry him,” Bagnoli said. As a result, Jack served as the primary back.
Jack, who leads the team in rushing, had a mediocre game, carrying 18 times for 52 yards and a one-yard touchdown, which only amounts to 2.9 yards per carry.
Marsh proved his talent in a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He reached the end zone untouched, showcasing his speed and the prowess of his blockers. Yet he had just two carries in the game and only nine so far this year.
So yes, the question still remains as to who will emerge as the go-to-guy in Bagnoli’s running back rotation. But that’s a good sign — it means we haven’t seen everything yet.
As long as the offensive line keeps “getting the edge,” to put it in Ragone’s words, the Quakers will keep running the ball. That has been their mentality with him under center, and it should be once again in 2012.
Now all they need is that last piece of the puzzle.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a sophomore international studies and business major from Paris. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.