It's a trap game for Penn football against Columbia
Quakers aim to take care of business against Lions, avoid repeat of 2012 near-upset
October 17, 2013, 11:09 am · Updated October 17, 2013, 8:49 pm·
Patrick Hulce | DP
Just over a year ago, Penn football got caught looking ahead.
Columbia pounced on the Quakers early, aiming to break a losing streak against the Red and Blue that dates back to 1996.
But with a Billy Ragone touchdown pass and a game-saving tackle by Dan Wilk at the three-yard line as time expired, Penn barely escaped with a 24-20 victory over the Lions.
The Quakers are wide awake this time around.
On Saturday, the Red and Blue (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) will look to take care of business early against a seemingly overmatched Columbia (0-4, 0-1) squad and avoid a repeat of 2012’s near-disaster.
Though the Quakers fell last week to William & Mary, 27-14, they showed good resolve against the bigger and stronger scholarship school despite giving Ragone a limited playbook to work with and holding him back from running the ball.
But this week, the kid gloves come off.
“We’ve got to improve in our passing game,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “We went into [last week] a little bit restrictive on what we wanted Billy to do to run our actual offense.”
Meanwhile, to say that the 2013 Lions have struggled this season would be an understatement. Columbia has been outscored 166-38 in its four games this season and ranks dead-last in the FCS in total offense, averaging a paltry 210.8 yards per game.
Penn will likely look to exploit Columbia’s 118th-ranked pass defense, which arrives on schedule just as Ragone and tight end Ryan O’Malley have begun to hit their strides.
With top receiver Conner Scott still out with a leg injury, Ragone hit the six-foot-five O’Malley for a pair of scores in a span of three minutes in the fourth quarter against the Tribe last Saturday to draw the Quakers within seven points.
O’Malley only has 20 receiving yards on the season, but he could have a lot more when he faces the Lions secondary. The Lions have surrendered 12 receptions to opposing tight ends for 137 yards and a touchdown on the season.
“We’ve been practicing all week,” O’Malley said. “Hopefully we can keep that connection going, and hopefully we can get in the end zone again.”
Though the numbers are gloomy on both sides of the ball for Columbia, the Lions have a special talent in the backfield that could spell trouble for Penn.
Senior running back Marcorus Garrett has gotten off to a hot start this season, rushing for 412 yards while averaging an impressive 6.1 yards per carry.
Garrett’s ability to make defenders miss in open space could spell trouble for the Red and Blue, who have surrendered 199 yards per game on the ground.
Garrett is no stranger to the Quakers either. He scored two
touchdowns and ran for 128 yards in the Lions’ upset bid last year.
“No one has really stopped him,” Bagnoli said. “He’s one of the premier backs in our league.”
However, with the way that sophomore defensive end Austin Taps — who notched two sacks against the Tribe last week — and his fellow pass rushers have been playing, Columbia might not have much of an opportunity to establish a passing game to ease Garrett’s load, especially with the Lions starting true freshman Kelly Hilinski at quarterback.
Saturday’s game appears to be a gross mismatch in favor of the reigning Ivy champs, but Penn knows far better than to look past the Lions like a lesser team would.
“They’re a better football team than their win-loss record,” Bagnoli said. “It’s an Ivy League game, it’s an on-the-road game, it’s their homecoming … we’ve got enough things that should get our attention to make sure that we don’t take them for granted.”
They know what the consequences are if they do.