If the Penn football team hopes to earn a third-straight Ivy League championship, Saturday’s Homecoming game against Princeton is a must-win.
With three teams tied for second place in the conference, the Red and Blue have to win out to secure at least a share of the rings.
And on paper, it doesn’t look like the Tigers (1-6, 1-3 Ivy) will provide too much resistance when they take on the Quakers (4-3, 3-1) 1 p.m. at Franklin Field.
In their last two meetings, the Red and Blue trounced Princeton, 42-7 and 52-10.
Also, the Tigers have been out-scored by an average of 15.3 points per game this season, allowing each opponent to score at least 21 points.
But Penn coach Al Bagnoli is quick to emphasize that the Quakers take no foe lightly.
“When you watch [the Tigers] on film, that won-loss record is really deceptive,” Bagnoli said. “You would think a 1-6 team wouldn’t average 21 first downs a game.”
Indeed, Princeton’s offense has looked extremely potent at times — like when it scored 39 points on league-leading Harvard — largely thanks to freshman tailback Chuck Dibilio.
The Nazareth, Pa., native has played savior for his squad’s offense, averaging a team-best 121 total yards per game.
Dibilio has also earned four Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors, tied for most all-time in conference history.
This fact has not been lost on the Quakers defensive line, on whose broad shoulders the task of stopping Dibilio will largely rest.
“He’s a good player, obviously,” senior defensive tackle Jared Sholly said.
But Sholly and Penn’s defensive front are confident that their tried-and-true game plan can contain the speedy Dibilio — the Quakers are second in the league in rush defense, giving up 117.1 yards per contest.
“We’re not doing anything different, we’re just playing Penn defense like we always do,” Sholly said. “We love it if people are going to try to run the ball on us because that’s something that we really take pride in.”
It seems like rush defense is something in which the Tigers’ defense also prides itself.
Princeton is a close third to the Quakers second-place rank in that category, allowing just 3.3 more yards per game than the Red and Blue. Just as Penn will have to keep Dibilio in check, Princeton will be up against Penn’s Brandon Colavita, who ranks just behind the Tigers’ ballcarrier in yards per game.
“Definitely the strength of their team is their down kids on defense,” Bagnoli said.
It looks like the contest will pit strength against strength, but the Quakers should have an advantage in the passing game. They plan to make full use of it.
“I think we’ll do a good job of controlling those [down linemen],” Bagnoli said. “But you still have to remain balanced.”
Princeton ranks last in the Ancient Eight in passing yards allowed per game, a whopping 269.0 mark.Indeed, balance between Penn’s rushing attack and a steady passing game will be the key to keeping the Quakers alive in their quest for an Ivy three-peat.