Seven games into the 2014 season, it’s impossible to deny the sense of disappointment surrounding Penn football. It hasn’t been hard to identify a feeling of hopelessness pervading fans and even players of a program that recently enjoyed one of the most dominant title runs in Ivy League history.
That makes sense. The “what have you done for me lately” athletic culture in which so many of us invest ourselves forces those surrounding the team to keep in mind two key figures: one and three, respectively.
The Quakers have won only one of their last 11 games. And there are three games remaining until Al Bagnoli retires. After that, the Red and Blue are off into the great unknown.
But all of that disappointment is an external factor. In the grand scheme of his career, all that matters is that the past two seasons are a blip on Bagnoli’s near-perfect resume.
More than anything, anyone seeking to characterize Penn’s season to date should first take into consideration Bagnoli’s take on the situation.
“This is about as frustrated as I’ve been all season,” he said following Saturday’s 21-13 Homecoming defeat to Brown. “We certainly can play better, and I’m frustrated that I can’t get this team to play better and take the next step. I’m as frustrated as I’ve been in a long time.”
Not surprising for a man — as well as a team and fan base — so attuned to winning.
Throughout his press conference following Saturday’s game, Bagnoli continuously cited the Quakers’ “inconsistency” this season, particularly against the Bears.
“I’m frustrated because we do some good things but then we can’t seem to build on them, can’t seem to sustain them,” Bagnoli said. “We haven’t been able to do it with any kind of consistent nature. ”
That is true, to a degree. But classifying the Quakers’ play throughout the season as inconsistent is too simple.
More accurately, the source of Penn’s problems in 2014 has not only been its inconsistency in cultivating that at which it sometimes succeeds, but its inability to fix the problems that opponents consistently exploit.
In four Ivy contests this season, the Red and Blue have forced exactly zero turnovers. On the season, the Quakers have recorded only six turnovers — the fewest takeaways in the Ancient Eight.
In all seven of Penn’s defeats, at least one facet of the Quakers’ defense has been eviscerated on a consistent basis. In the Red and Blue’s first six losses, it was the squad’s secondary that gave up big plays.
The good news for Penn on Saturday was that seniors Evan Jackson and Kevin Ijoma had 17 and 12 tackles, respectively, while the secondary played well in coverage.
The bad news? The need for the Quakers’ defensive backs to record so many tackles stemmed from breakdowns and a lack of containment in the first two levels of the Red and Blue’s defense. How else does a team rack up 262 yards on the ground without recording a negative rush one time throughout the contest?
Even the offensive side of the ball led to more of the same from Penn. As they have done so frequently in 2014, the Quakers threw often against Brown — quarterback Alek Torgersen attempted 47 passes, the fourth game this season in which he’s thrown the ball 40 times or more — while achieving little on the ground.
Although the sophomore from California has improved considerably throughout the year, the Bears knew exactly what they could get away with. Phil Estes’ squad allowed the Quakers to continuously complete underneath passes and short wide receiver screens, knowing it likely wouldn’t do much damage.
Needless to say, the strategy worked. Torgersen’s 30 completions generated only 252 yards, with most of that coming once the game was already out of reach.
It’s hard not to empathize with Bagnoli and share his frustration.
And if the Quakers are planning to send their coach out with any positive momentum from this lost season, it’s going to require a reversal of the few things that they’ve actually done consistently.Comments powered by Disqus
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