Saturday night, for what seemed like the ninth year in a row, Penn football gave up a game-changing play against Villanova.
There have been many reasons why the Quakers have failed to pull out a win against the Wildcats in the last 100 years, but this time it was Penn’s starkly one-dimensional offense.
Coach Al Bagnoli and his staff take great pride in their quarterback Billy Ragone, who, despite finishing fourth in passing in the Ivy League last season, was named first-team All-Ivy. Last season, the key to the Quakers’ offense was Ragone’s ability to scramble for yards when nothing was open downfield.
The nearly all-rush gameplan worked for Penn a year ago, as teams failed to prepare for the threat of Ragone’s run game. But now that opponents know what to expect, Penn’s offense is severely limited: opponents plan to shut down Ragone and force him to throw. But is he capable of leading an effective aerial attack?
Saturday night served as the perfect test. The Wildcats pushed through Penn’s offensive line, forcing Ragone to either scramble for a few yards or make a quick pass. He passed for a career-high 250 yards, but he didn’t have much to show for it.
Seventy-nine yards of that total came from last-minute throwaways to Tommy Eggleston.
And 123 yards went for no score, often on drives which ended in interceptions.
Twice on Saturday passes were thrown, bobbled and intercepted — though the second was called back — and the same happened last week against Lafayette. With different intended receivers each time, it’s tough to pinpoint the problem on anything but inaccurate passes from the quarterback.
The blame can’t be placed solely on Ragone, whose offensive line is still experiencing its first doses of game-time action. Bagnoli struggled to grade the line’s job of giving Ragone enough time and space to execute a clean play.
“It’s hard to evaluate from the sidelines,” Bagnoli said. “But they’re tough to block … those linebackers are really athletic kids.”
Ultimately, all that mattered was the fact that Ragone was forced to either run — and Saturday he was mostly contained with only 32 yards rushing — throw the ball away or make a poor pass.
The limits that the Wildcats put on Penn were too much for the offense to handle.
The Quakers had one final opportunity to string together 60-some yards in 80 seconds and kick a field goal to win the game. After a confidence-boosting touchdown in the slot to Ryan Calvert, which cut the deficit to just two points, Penn’s one-dimensional offense reappeared.
Ragone rushed for 11, was sacked for a loss of six, threw an incomplete pass, found Jason Seifert for eight yards — all inside Penn’s own 20 and with time quickly ticking away — and then was intercepted for a Wildcats touchdown.
Against a tough opponent, Penn couldn’t capitalize on its arsenal of potential receivers and was left one-dimensional and vulnerable.
The personnel is there for the Quakers, the offense just needs to click.
As the Ivy season rolls around, only time will tell just how one-dimensional Penn is.
_MEGAN SOISSON is a junior health and societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her e-mail address is soisson@theDP.com. _