While the national anthem is being cued up and the referees are preparing for kickoff on Franklin Field at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, fans may be wondering which team will be showing up to play. True, the schedule has said for quite some time that this contest will pit Columbia (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) against Penn -- but the pressing question is which Quakers' squad will show up. Will it be the Penn (2-2, 1-0) team that demolished Dartmouth, 48-14, two weeks ago? Or the Quakers squad that meekly fell at Holy Cross, 34-17, a week ago? Even the Penn coaching staff is still wondering what the answer to that question might be. "It was very disappointing last week. I thought we had made some huge strides, and all of a sudden you go five hours away and play a clinker of a game," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "Right now it leaves a lot more questions than answers. "But I fully expect our kids to play better. Hopefully we've done a better job in preparation." Saturday's game offers the Quakers the chance to get back on the winning track and to rectify problems that manifested themselves at Holy Cross, before Penn heads off to face Yale next week. But despite the Quakers' demonstrative 41-17 win over Columbia last October, and the fact that the Lions haven't had a winning record since 1996, no one in West Philadelphia is taking this game for granted. "We have to come to the game more mentally prepared; that's what we didn't do last week," said wide receiver Rob Milanese, who leads the Quakers with 33 receptions. "Columbia looks a lot better than last year, when we put a lot of points up on them." One focal point for Penn tomorrow is to work out the kinks in its potentially explosive passing attack. At Baker Field in Manhattan last October, Quakers quarterback Gavin Hoffman shredded the Lions to the tune of a Penn-record 399 yards passing. And prior to the meltdown at Holy Cross that saw the junior signal-caller throw three interceptions, Hoffman was averaging over 330 yards per contest this season. The Quakers have been reevaluating their defense -- and with good reason. After being stampeded by the Crusaders to the tune of 496 total yards and five touchdowns, Penn is eager to make a statement. "We've just got to get back to hitting people hard and wrapping up and making good tackles," said Penn sophomore linebacker Travis Belden, who leads the Quakers with 36 tackles and seven tackles for a loss. As evidenced by the 24-point Penn victory a year ago, Columbia is used to being hit hard. But thus far in 2000, the Lions have shown signs of reversing that trend. Columbia is seven points away from a perfect record, and a week ago the Lions mauled Lafayette, 47-22. Columbia junior tailback Johnathan Reese, with 201 yards on 30 carries, spearheaded a Lions attack that barreled its way to 306 rushing yards in that win. But Reese is quick to credit his entire offensive unit for his success. "[Quarterback] Jeff McCall has been efficient, so that takes the focus off the running game somewhat," Reese said. "I heard Penn has had some tough games, and I think there are weaknesses in the defense. "But I'm sure they'll come to play, so I don't think it'll be easy." Reese is second in the Ivies with 617 yards on the ground this fall, and is a major concern for a Penn defense that ranks fourth in the league at stopping the run. On the third play from scrimmage against the Quakers last year, Reese trotted 76 yards for a TD. "Obviously he's explosive, and he's one of the top backs in the Ivy League," Belden said. "Reese is definitely a formidable opponent, but his supporting cast isn't up to our supporting cast. And I think we'll be able to capitalize on that." Indeed, behind the arm of Hoffman and the sure hands of receivers Milanese, Doug O'Neill and others, the Quakers have gained an Ivy-leading 1,354 yards in the air. McCall has only passed for 640 yards, but the junior has thrown five fewer interceptions than the Red and Blue offense. The wild card in this matchup, then, may be the play of Penn's rushing game. "Our hope is to be able to run [running back Kris Ryan] and take some pressure off of our quarterback and get some semblance of a balanced attack," Bagnoli said. With Ivy heavyweights Yale, Cornell and Harvard remaining on the schedule, Penn's response to last week's loss will be a good indication of how far the Quakers will go this season.Comments powered by Disqus
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