This Saturday will mark a new beginning for Penn football.
For the first time since 2013, the Quakers will be without former All-American wide receiver Justin Watson, when they face Bucknell to open the season.
In addition to having to replace Watson, coach Ray Priore has been tasked with answering the question of who will be the starting quarterback: junior Nick Robinson or sophomore Ryan Glover. On Wednesday, Priore announced that Glover will start on Saturday but that Robinson will also take snaps during the game. Even with Glover being the starter for week one, this is not necessarily indicative of who will play the majority of snaps for the year.
“Expect [to see both quarterbacks] in the first few games,” Priore said. “We will go out there and play them both.”
Even with a lot of question marks offensively, the side of the ball with the most to prove might just be the defense. After surrendering the third most points per game in the Ivy League in 2017, Penn has an opportunity to start the year off strong against a team that has twice as many turnovers as offensive touchdowns.
Bucknell (0-2) has mustered only two offensive touchdowns compared to four turnovers.
“If we put pressure on the quarterback, we can definitely make him make some bad decisions,” senior captain and safety Sam Philippi said.
Bison starting junior quarterback John Chiarolanzio has completed 55 percent of his passes and has zero touchdowns and two interceptions through two games so far.
Last season, the Quakers surrendered 24 points to Division II Ohio Dominican before giving up 47 points to Lehigh. Though the Red and Blue did win both games, defensive coordinator Bob Benson simplified many of the schemes to allow his defense to think less and play faster.
“We have less plays to memorize. We combined some man techniques with stuff we used to have three different names for that we now have one name for,” Philippi said. “In a way, we are simplifying it but it’s really building upon what we had last year and advancing it.”
One group who Philippi thinks showed major improvement in the offseason is the defensive line.
Priore brought in defensive line coach Hank Hughes in the offseason. With over 20 years of Division I coaching experience and a stint with a top-15 rush defense in Nebraska in 2015, Hughes has brought a new energy to the group.
“He’s a great guy, and our defensive line loves him,” Philippi stated.
On the offensive end, one of the keys for the Quakers will be limiting turnovers.
For all the Bisons' struggles on offense, their defense is coming off a year in which they ranked second in the Patriot League in scoring defense. With a pair of capable running backs in juniors Karekin Brooks and Abe Willows, Penn will likely rely heavily on the ground game.
Still, even with inexperienced quarterbacks, Priore is not afraid to go through the air if needed.
“They put a lot of pressure on the blitz, and they like to go man-to-man. They put a lot of guys in the box,” Priore said of Bucknell’s defense. “With that being said, there’ll be a lot of one-on-one opportunities and we got to take advantage of those opportunities.”
This game could be a good opportunity for the receivers to step up without Watson in the fold.
This game will not have any effect on Penn’s chances at winning an Ivy League championship. However, it could give the squad momentum in what players and fans alike hope will be a redemption season after last year's fourth place league finish.
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