Maybe Penn football coach Al Bagnoli should make curfew a little earlier than usual tonight for the players on his defensive squad. He needs to make sure they're not asleep early in the game for the fourth week in a row tomorrow as the Quakers (3-2, 2-0 Ivy League) travel to face high-powered Yale (4-1, 1-1) for a crucial battle between two teams favored to win the Ancient Eight title. In the past three games, the Red and Blue have almost sleepily allowed their opponents to go up a touchdown less than five minutes into the first quarter. While Penn ultimately came out ahead two of the three times -- both against Ivy opponents -- falling behind early tomorrow could be dangerous against an Elis defense that's ranked first in the Ivy League and an offense that's ranked second in the Ancient Eight. As the Quakers saw in their 34-17 loss at Holy Cross two weeks ago, conceding an early touchdown against a team with a quality offense and a strong defense could cause a snowball effect. The Crusaders' pumped-up defense was able to lock down on Penn while their offense kept building an insurmountable lead on the Red and Blue. Bagnoli said all three of these early deficits were caused by low intensity on the part of his players, paired with some craftiness by opposing offensive coordinators. "It's been interesting, because nobody's really come out and run the offense that they show on film," he said. "Certainly in the last two games, if not three, they've come out with a whole new flavor than what they've shown in previous weeks. "Unfortunately, it's taken us a couple of series before we actually have made all the corrections that you have to make." The Quakers will need to come out tomorrow fired up early if they want to dodge another snowball in a game that carries heavy Ivy title implications. If Penn gives the Elis offense a few free series to do as they please before kicking in on defense, it could mean disaster for the Quakers. Yale has the best rushing offense in the Ivies, anchored by speedy and tricky running back Rashad Bartholomew. "He has very good vision," Bagnoli said. "He'll start one way and then cut all the way back the other way. You've got to defend the cutback; you've got to defend the point of attack; and you've really got to stay disciplined." If this isn't enough of a worry for Penn, Yale's offense also carries a quality passing game with the arm of quarterback Peter Lee and a range of receivers. "I think they've got a little better balance [than other Ivy League teams], and that makes them harder to defend," Bagnoli said. "Statistically, they are throwing the ball pretty well, so that puts a little more pressure on you to defend everything." Yale coach Jack Siedlecki agreed that his team's offensive balance is its biggest threat to opposing teams. "Our balance on offense makes us tough to defend," he said. "Our ability to run the ball has allowed us to dominate time of possession, and our turnover ratio is No. 1 in the league." But the Elis coach added that Penn's offense -- ranked second in scoring offense and fourth in total offense -- is also a challenge to defend. "Penn's biggest threat starts with the quarterback [Gavin Hoffman] and then their ability to turn small gains into big ones," he said. It isn't just the Quakers' passing game that Siedlecki worries about, though. With or without Kris Ryan, who is listed as a game-time decision after injuring his knee last week against the Lions, Penn's now-regular backfield duo of Mike Verille and Todd Okolovitch have upheld the threat of the Quakers' ground attack. "You spend so much time defending the pass, you may overlook the backs, which you cannot afford to do," Siedlecki said. "In other circumstances, [Verille] would be a featured back in this league." Even if Yale's offense is kept under wraps early, the Quaker's charge could be stifled by the excellent defense of the Elis. "They've got a really good secondary, [with] a bunch of talented athletes back there," Hoffman said. Penn will have to change its style of play to deal with the skill of Yale's defense. Instead of breaking open for big-yardage plays, the Red and Blue will instead be looking to simply consistently move the chains down the field. "We're not going to have to go for the jugular like we have against some other teams," Hoffman said. "I think this week we're going to have to be a lot more patient and just take what they give us and sort of grind out some longer drives." The question for many is whether those long drives -- after the long drive up to New Haven, Conn. -- end with points, or costly Quakers turnovers like in their last road trip against Holy Cross. "We still have to prove to people that we're capable of leaving Franklin Field and playing against a good football team and putting the kind of energy and concentration... together to beat [them]," Bagnoli said. "We haven't done it yet. Until we do it, the jury's out."Comments powered by Disqus
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