It’s Election Day, and while the country’s path for the next four years will be decided today in the polling booth, the Ivy League title will be decided Saturday at Franklin Field.
Like the presidency, the head coaching position in football is left open to much scrutiny. But while the criticism of a president seems to reach a fever pitch during election season, a coach has to hear it after every bad loss, and now, in the age of social media, after every play.
I’m guilty of being critical of coach Al Bagnoli over numerous decisions throughout this season. But following the win over Princeton Saturday, which set up the de facto title game against Harvard this weekend, the spark that keeps my negativity going burnt out.
Sure, many of the same problems persisted for the Quakers over the weekend. They still played lethargically, coming out of the locker room after halftime and allowing Princeton to crawl back into the game and subsequently regain the lead.
They needed three big plays — C.J. Mooney’s pick six, Dave Twamley’s end zone interception and Brandon Copeland’s fumble recovery with Princeton on Penn’s 6-yard line — to eke out a victory.
Yet they made the plays when they mattered the most.
More importantly, Bagnoli made important changes — both with personnel and with his game plan — that made all the difference in the game.
When Brandon Colavita suffered an injury early in the season, Bagnoli chose Jeff Jack as his replacement, leading to a mixed bag of results.
There were games when Jack ran the ball well, like when he averaged 5.7 yards per carry against Yale, but there were just as many in which he was never able to get it going.
Meanwhile, Lyle Marsh quietly accepted his limited number of rushes while also making plays out of the slot.
But against Princeton, Bagnoli gave Marsh the bulk of the carries, and it paid off. He carried the ball 19 times for 104 yards, while Jack, in a more limited role, excelled as well, gaining 50 yards and a touchdown on eight rushes.
Marsh, who got better as the game progressed, provides a durability that Jack seems to lack.
But if Bagnoli hadn’t made the decision to run the ball 47 times against a Tigers defense that seemed to be weaker in pass coverage than run defense, Marsh wouldn’t have had the chance to break loose.
Rather than relying on an air game that has proven to be suspect at best, Penn turned to the power running attack — even Ragone ran it 16 times to complement his 23 pass attempts — and it paid off big time.
During election season, we hear a lot about “the record.”
Here’s Bagnoli’s: In 20 seasons, he has won eight Ivy League titles.
Sure, Penn will play the role of David against the Goliath Crimson this Saturday, but I’d hesitate to write the Quakers, and Bagnoli, off.
The record speaks for itself.
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.