Tomorrow in Worcester, Mass., the Penn football team gets a near-ideal tune-up before entering the bulk of its Ivy League season. Holy Cross, the Quakers' Patriot League opponent this weekend, has played more games against Ivy League teams than Penn this season, which makes it hard to think of a better opponent for the Quakers to face in gearing up for the stretch run. "We're going through this with a checklist of things we'd like to get better at," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. The Crusaders (3-1) have already beaten Harvard and lost to Yale this season, while the Quakers (2-1) have only played one Ivy game -- last week's 48-14 shellacking of Dartmouth at Franklin Field. Holy Cross snuck past the Crimson in its second game of the season, 27-25, but didn't fare as well last week against Yale, falling to the Elis 33-27. "We were kind of riding the high waves until we hit Yale down at the Yale Bowl," Holy Cross coach Dan Allen said. Allen's biggest concern in preparing to face the Quakers -- the third of four Ivy League teams his Crusaders will face this year -- is the challenge presented by the full-time return of Quakers junior running back Kris Ryan, who saw limited action last week against the Big Green, carrying eight times for 51 yards. "Offensively, they have a lot of weapons," Allen said. "What concerns me the most is they get [Ryan] back now that he is 100 percent. They bring [Ryan] back, they're going to be a little more balanced. They put a lot of pressure on you. Defensively speaking, it's very tough to defend." Bagnoli made Allen look almost clairvoyant. "Priority No. 1 is that we want to be able to run the football better statistically than what we're doing," Bagnoli said. The Quakers -- behind senior Mike Verille and sophomore Todd Okolovitch -- have rushed for 320 yards over the first three games of the season. While those numbers work out to a respectable average of just over 100 yards per game, Bagnoli's problem isn't with the totals. "Right now we're only averaging 3.2 yards a carry," Bagnoli said. "We're going to have to increase that if we want to beat the real good teams and if we want to establish some kind of balance. "We want to be able to get into a bad weather day and still come out there and move the ball effectively. That's our first priority." That balance will be difficult to achieve, considering that Penn is the most productive passing offense in Division I-AA, averaging 358 yards per game through the air. The second priority for the Quakers is eliminating some of the costly penalties that have plagued them this season, like the three first-half penalties that negated 17 points in their season opener against Lehigh. "We want to minimize our penalties," Bagnoli said. "I think we did a better job of it [against Dartmouth]. They're still up a little too high for my liking. We were inside the halo on a punt return twice; the kicker kicked the ball out of bounds for another one; and we had five other penalties besides the kicking game." Bagnoli also wants his team to improve its run defense and tackling in the secondary. The coach thinks that Holy Cross would present a nice test for the Quakers in those areas. "They do a nice job. They've had success against everybody running the football," Bagnoli said. "It's not just stopping the option. We've got to stop the ground game in itself. That's going to require some very good tackling from our second- and third-level people who are going to have to get involved in option responsibilities." One of those "second wave" people is sophomore linebacker Travis Belden. "It's a new challenge," Belden said of the Crusaders' attack. "Their quarterback [sophomore Brian Hall] definitely scares me personally, but I'll be ready for this game."Comments powered by Disqus
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