For much of the first half at Saturday’s Penn-Cornell game while I sat in the press box at Schoellkopf Field, I questioned coach Al Bagnoli’s strategy. I couldn’t fathom why Penn was still trying to barrel its way through Cornell’s defensive line on the ground.
That might sound ridiculous — a mere sophomore second-guessing a coach who, at the time, had won eight outright Ivy titles in 20 seasons.
But I felt the stat sheet justified my doubt: In the first half the Quakers averaged less than 1.3 yards per carry, and they had still gone to the ground more than the air.
Penn’s last drive of the first half gave me hope. Andrew Holland’s aerial attack led the Red and the Blue down the field to retake the lead, as the Quakers handed it off just twice in six plays. The march was more than methodical — it was dominant. Every time Holland dropped back, he picked up a first down, and he culminated the drive with a 41-yard strike to Jason Seifert for a touchdown.
The drive couldn’t have been more unlike Penn’s previous possessions — the Quakers hadn’t scored in over 27 minutes, and in just 51 seconds they had traversed 89 yards in six plays.
Surely the drive would convince Bagnoli to stick to the passing game.
It didn’t. Out of the break, Penn came out running again. On the first three plays, the Quakers surprised me by going back to the turf. Apparently, they surprised Cornell too. On the fourth play, Lyle Marsh broke free down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown run.
Bagnoli: 1. Jaffe: 0.
I’m not the only one who has questioned Bagnoli’s system. Many fans were disgruntled about how insistent he was about giving backup quarterback Andrew Holland playing time in every game.
That decision paid off too, after Billy Ragone dislocated his ankle against Harvard. Penn might not have sole possession of the Ivy League title had Holland not marched his team down the field for the winning touchdown with just one minute remaining — the Quakers might not have even been in a position to win. Would you want your outright title hopes on the shoulders of a quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap?
Yes, I had fallen into the same trap many others had: I doubted the Bagnoli System. The Bagnoli System might seem obstinate, but it’s tried and tested.
Next season, the Ivy League will be as wide open as it was this year. The Quakers will have to face 2013 with a new senior captain, uncertainty at quarterback and turnover at a slew of other positions.
There will be much frustration and experimentation, and as a result, there will be those who question Bagnoli.
For those fans, I say this: Wait and watch. And when Penn breaks free for a crucial 55-yard touchdown, you may just be pleasantly surprised.
STEVEN JAFFE is a sophomore economics major from McLean, Va. He can be reached at Jaffe@theDP.com.