Al Bagnoli likes to take it slow. On the football field, that is.
And that’s exactly what the Penn coach and his Quakers were able to do against Columbia Saturday, using a relentless running game to keep control of the ball and the clock.
“Part of the gameplan was to try to keep possession, try to keep the ball away from that offense that scored 40-plus points the last two weeks,” Bagnoli said after the game.
“I thought being able to chew down the clock in that first and third quarter when we were going into the wind was critical for us.”
Penn had the ball for just under 34 minutes, compared to Columbia’s 26.
And nearly all of those 34 were spent with either Brandon Colavita, Jeff Jack, Billy Ragone or Luke DeLuca running the ball down the Lions’ collective throat, eating up as much time as possible.
Jack, Ragone and Colavita each had at least 10 rushing attempts, and the entire Red and Blue running game combined for 57 attempts and 281 yards.
The Quakers’ passing game was virtually nonexistent, but in this case, it didn’t matter. As Columbia coach Norries Wilson put it: “If it’s not broken, what you gonna try to fix it for?”
The only thing that broke was the stability of the Lion’s front four.
In addition to pummeling the Columbia defensive line and linebackers, Bagnoli’s approach afforded his own stalwart defense time to stay fresh.
The more time Ragone and the offense spent on the field, the more time the defense had to adjust to what Wilson was trying to do.
That meant more effective coverage, which in turn allowed for better pressure on the quarterback.
Bagnoli’s strategy worked — the Quakers recorded five sacks on Lions quarterback Sean Brackett while holding him to just 18-for-33 passing.
Two of the five sacks came at the hands of former running back Matt Hamscher.
The junior, who was converted to a defensive back this season, spearheaded a frenzied Red and Blue blitz scheme that had Brackett on his heels throughout the game.
“I’m sure it’s not easy for opposing offenses to pick up our blitzes,” Hamscher said.
And it’s even harder to pick up a shifty linebacker when you haven’t been able to get in rhythm, sitting on the sidelines for extended periods of time as Brackett did.
Penn’s run stopping was even more stifling than its pass defense, as Columbia gained just 44 yards on 33 rushing attempts.
The brightest example of dominance came late in the first quarter when Brian Wing forced a Brackett fumble that fellow defensive rock Drew Goldsmith picked up and ran into the endzone to put the Red and Blue ahead for good.
That play happened all at once, but most of the Quakers’ victory was spent slowly exploiting advantages that, over time, became more and more apparent.
His defense freshly trampled, Wilson seconded Bagnoli’s strategy.
“Just because you got plays on the call sheet, if the plays you call are working, you don’t have to call the other ones.”
And the plays Bagnoli called definitely achieved his goal of keeping the ball out of the hands of the potent Columbia offense.
The high-powered aerial attack employed by the Lions was like the hare to Penn’s slow, plodding tortoise.
Slow and steady ended up winning that one too.
ELI COHEN is a junior philosophy major from Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.