Are you an overly analytical Penn football fan? If so, Penn's season opening game against Lehigh brings a good omen. For the first time since 1994, the Quakers will kick off their season against a team other than Dartmouth. Six years ago, Penn opened its schedule with a 27-7 victory over Lafayette. Coincidently, 1994 was the last year in which the Penn football team went undefeated in the Ivy League. History aside, opening the season against No. 21-ranked Lehigh (1-0), instead of Dartmouth, should prove to be beneficial for the Quakers. "[Penn's new schedule] works to our advantage," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "It will give us a chance to integrate some young kids in the first couple of weeks before we play Dartmouth on the 30th [of September]." Penn's inexperience is particularly apparent in its offensive line, which only returns junior guard Sam Gottesman from last year's starting line. Moreover, junior running back Kris Ryan, who led the Ivy League in rushing with 1,197 yards last season, is highly doubtful for tomorrow's game due to a high-ankle sprain. In his first season as a starter, Ryan was the only Ivy League rusher to eclipse the mark of 1,000 rushing yards, and he accomplished the feat despite missing most of the last two games with an ankle injury. "Kris Ryan is probably the best player in the Patriot or Ivy League," Lehigh coach Kevin Higgins said. Ryan's absence from tomorrow's lineup is almost definite, which is just another reason the Red and Blue should be grateful that an Ivy League foe is not lining up against them on the gridiron. "Last year, there was such a premium on that first game," Bagnoli said. "If you won that game, it put you in great shape. If you lost that game, you almost had to run the table [to win the league title], and the margin of error was almost nil." Therefore, Penn's first two out-of-conference games will basically buy the Quakers some time for the offensive line to gel and for Ryan to regain his health. Meanwhile, senior running back Mike Verille will fill Ryan's shoes. Verille averaged 3.9 yards per carry last fall, amassing 179 yards over the course of the season. Verille, who transferred to Penn from Duke before the 1999 season, was used more as a receiving threat last year. Verille caught 24 passes out of the backfield for 231 yards. Another interesting storyline about Penn's offense comes from the sidelines. Andy Coen, Penn's new offensive coordinator, joins the Quakers' coaching staff after serving on the Engineers coaching staff since the spring of 1994. "We will miss him here, and I know he'll do a great job with the offense at Penn," Higgins said. "He studies the game as much as anybody in the country, and he has tremendous leadership skills." Coen will have a challenging start to his Penn coaching career. The Lehigh defense returns eight starters from a team that gave up 14 points or less in seven games last season. On the other side of the ball, Penn will try to neutralize Lehigh's offense, which manhandled Ivy League opponents last season. In three contests against the Ancient Eight, the Engineers outscored their opponents, 124-27. Quarterback Phil Stambaugh and running back Ronald Jean are gone from last year's explosive offense, which scored over 40 points on seven different occasions. But the Engineers seem to have suitable replacements. In his debut as starting quarterback, junior Brant Hall threw for 292 yards last week in a 34-14 win over Wofford. "I've always felt that when [Brant] had the opportunity he would be an excellent quarterback," Higgins said. "There is so much room for improvement, but he did a nice job for us [last week]. I think he'll only get better as the season goes on." In addition to his aerial prowess, Hall ran the ball effectively. Between draw plays, options and scrambles, Hall gained 57 rushing yards on 15 carries. Hall was one of three Engineers to run the ball over 14 times last week. Junior running back Phil Pleasant led Lehigh with 61 yards on 16 carries. In addition, sophomore running back Derek Hewlett contributed 55 yards to Lehigh's ground attack, carrying the ball 14 times. News and Notes Hall was named the ECAC and Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week for last Saturday's performance against Wofford. Lehigh has won 12 consecutive home games dating back to 1998. Penn has a 42-12 career record against the Engineers, but the Engineers have a four-game winning streak and have won 10 of the last 12 meetings.Comments powered by Disqus
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