Penn has developed a tradition the last five seasons: facing Villanova in the first or second week of the year, and most likely at at Franklin Field since just one of the games has been played on the Main Line.
But the tradition has also been weighing down the loss column, with the Red and Blue failing to win the cross-town rivalry since the series began in 2004.
In fact, in the eight games since the teams played in 1911, Penn has never beaten Villanova.
The Wildcats (2-0) won't make anything easier this time around, bringing two weeks' game experience and a No. 2 ranking into Saturday's contest at 33rd and South. That ranking is the highest Penn has ever faced since Division I split into two subdivisions.
The Quakers are still untested, but several elements of their game will have to align for a victory under the lights tomorrow night, especially on offense. Penn hasn't scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a matchup with the Wildcats since 2005.
Villanova's rush defense was mediocre in its season opener against Temple, yielding 139 yards to the Owls on 30 carries. The next weekend, however, the Wildcats stuffed Lehigh by allowing just 55 yards on 22 rushes.
The Quakers' early efforts on the ground should set the tone for the game. Junior Mike DiMaggio leads a deep contingent of backs that coach Al Bagnoli will use as his primary weapon.
"We're going to have to run and do what we do - you can't be one-sided," Bagnoli said. "What we have to do is run our offense and stay on our schedule. Everybody talks about winning third down, but realistically we've got to do a really good job on first down."
Whether by choice or necessity, the Quakers may have to shift the offense to the air at some point during the game.
If 'Nova proves as stingy against the rush as last week, or if Penn is not as successful on the handoff as they hope, junior quarterback Keiffer Garton might get to show off his arm.
In their first two contests, the Wildcats have given up over 500 passing yards, a statistic that has the attention of senior wide receiver Kyle Derham.
"Watching film as wide receivers we're getting excited, our eyes are getting big," said Derham, who led the Quakers with 404 receiving yards last season.
"We see there are opportunities downfield and when we establish the run they're going to have to bring some safeties down and that'll open up the play-action defense," he said.
The turnover differential will be as crucial as it was last year when Penn snatched four interceptions to keep the game even until the closing minutes.
"We've got to win the turnover battle," Bagnoli said. "It can't be 4-0 Villanova [in turnover differential] and us having a realistic chance of winning the game.
"So we're going to have to do a good job of protecting the football and hopefully causing some turnovers," he said.
Enter senior Chris Wynn. The two-time first team All-Ivy has five interceptions each of the past two years and hopes to continue that trend by picking off Wildcats quarterback Chris Whitney any chance he gets.
"He's a magician," Wynn said of Whitney. "He'll be in the pocket one play and look like he's sacked then all of a sudden he'll pop out. He's a double threat running and passing."
The Quakers caught a glimpse of Whitney last season when he ran into the end zone to give Villanova a 20-14 lead in the first period of overtime. (Penn would then fumble on its own overtime series, giving 'Nova the win.)
Whitney was a late replacement for then-starter Antwon Young, who completed almost as many passes to Penn players as his own teammates.
While the Wildcats are still prone to playing both Young and Whitney, expect to see the latter carry the bulk of the load.
"Now [Whitney's] got a full season under his belt," Bagnoli said. "He makes really good decisions, physically he's very gifted."
After five years of coming up short, the Quakers are ready to find the final piece to the puzzle.
If the Red and Blue defend as expected and click on the offensive end, this could be the year for the upset. But the players know it starts before they even take the field.
"I think for us it's a revenge factor," Derham said. "Since I've been here we haven't won [against Villanova]."Comments powered by Disqus
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