Like the Notorious B.I.G. famously rapped on his seminal album “Ready to Die,” things done changed.
Indeed, defensive coordinator Ray Priore understands that Penn’s next opponent, Lafayette, presents a completely different challenge than did Villanova in the Quakers’ 14-3 season-opening loss.
And he’s confident that Penn (0-1) will be able to make the necessary adjustments when it takes on the Leopards (1-1) in Easton, Pa., tomorrow evening.
Priore contends that dealing with Lafayette’s run-dominated offense will require different strategies and personnel on defense than did trying to stop the Wildcats’ passing attack.
“Villanova was more of a gun-run threat,” Priore said. “That’s their style of offense: more wide open. Lafayette’s … more of a north-south, downhill team.”
And while “gun-run” may be appropriate for West Philadelphia, it requires far less effort from interior defensive linemen, who rarely sack the quarterback and primarily stop the opposing rushing game.
On the other hand, a “north-south” offensive attack will require the Red and Blue’s defense to rely much more heavily on their nose guards and tackles.
Enter sophomore defensive end/tackle Jared Sholly.
The native of Clear Lake, Iowa started for the first time in his career against Villanova, playing defensive end in place of the injured Drew Goldsmith.
Now Sholly, along with his teammates on the Quakers’ D-line, is saddled with the task of stopping a Leopards rushing attack that has accumulated 309 yards on just 65 carries in the first two games of the season (4.75 yards per carry).
The Red and Blue coaching staff, from head coach Al Bagnoli to Priore, recognizes that the battle between the Lafayette runners and Sholly’s unit could play a major role in the game.
“That’s going to be one of the keys,” Bagnoli said.
And Sholly will indeed be one of the essential cogs in the machine trying to turn that key.
“He’s got all kinds of ability,” Bagnoli said. “He’s got great quickness, great explosion. He’s got all the physical tools.”
Sholly’s greatest tool may be perception: he completely understands the importance that he and the guys up front on defense will play against the Leopards.
“[Lafayette has] three really good running backs,” Sholly said. “So they are going to try to run the ball down our throat. It really comes down to us up front. If we get a good push up front, that helps the linebackers.”
In essence, the ability of the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback and the running backs dictates how the rest of the defense will have to play.
Good run stopping up front allows cornerbacks and safeties to hang farther back from the line of scrimmage, helping prevent big plays when Leopards quarterback Rob Curley does decide to throw the ball.
Penn’s secondary will also be crucial in providing second and third lines of defense against explosive cuts from Lafayette’s leading rusher Maurice White, who has run for 117 yards and a touchdown so far this season.
“From back one through back four … they are all really, really talented,” Priore said of the Leopards’ multi-faceted running game. “We need to get our safeties and our corners to be the second and third hits on running plays.”
That sounds like a serious change from the role of the secondary in the Quakers’ loss to Villanova.
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