In the world of football, there may never be an ending quite like the thrill ride that Penn experienced en route to beating Dartmouth in four overtimes last week.
But with William & Mary on the docket next, the Quakers have no time to relax.
Penn (2-1) will ride that momentum every second against the hard-nosed and talented Tribe (3-2).
William & Mary is looking to rebound from a tough 20-16 loss at Villanova, a team that shredded the Red and Blue on the Main Line just two weeks ago, 35-6.
The Tribe held the Wildcats to no touchdowns and just 97 total yards in the first half of their matchup. Though they surrendered a game-winning touchdown to ’Nova quarterback John Robertson with just 28 seconds left on Saturday, the Tribe defense has three interceptions and forced nine fumbles so far this year, recovering five.
Penn’s offensive line will have its hands full against this front seven, and fifth-year senior quarterback Billy Ragone will need to stay sharp against a secondary that has a habit of wrecking short to intermediate passing routes.
“Obviously, if we turn the ball over we are in trouble,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “We need to keep them off balance so we don’t get too many predictable down and distances because … [when] that front four turns it loose they are pretty good.”
Penn will have to get its ground game going early and not wait for late-game heroics from Ragone and junior running back Kyle Wilcox, especially since many Quakers are likely to rest before Ivy conference play resumes for good. Penn needs to ensure that assignments aren’t missed out on the edge because the Tribe’s linebackers are quick and powerful.
But what may be more of a concern is the William & Mary offense. It isn’t necessarily explosive, but it is methodical, tough and relatively mistake free.
Through five games, Tribe quarterback Michael Graham has only tossed one pick to four touchdowns and has a 58.9 percent completion percentage.
The Red and Blue front seven must also contain William & Mary’s potent rushing attack. Villanova gutted Penn for 280 yards on the ground, and the Tribe has the ability to do the same thing — Tribe running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor has rushed for 404 yards this season.
William & Mary thrives on an offense that relies heavily on its ground game and the play action pass. Penn has the talent to contain the Tribe’s offense, but must count on the defense staying fresh. Ragone and junior running backs Spencer Kulcsar and Wilcox must lead an offensive effort like Penn fans saw in overtime.
“We are trying to contain them, keep them from big plays, one-play drives and make them snap the ball more than they want to snap the ball,” Bagnoli said. “It’s gonna be quite the challenge for us. They are a very, very good football team.”
“Every week we have to get better,” Wilcox added. “Hopefully, we will have better experience against them and our linemen will have some experience against them.”
Bagnoli and the Quakers can’t expect more miracles this week. It’s time for Penn to show off its reloaded roster and let its stars go to work.
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