Creating some turnovers and having a strong start will be the name of the game for Penn football this week.
On Saturday, the Quakers will take on Sacred Heart at Franklin Field in their final nonconference game of the season.
It has been an up-and-down first three weeks for the Red and Blue (1-2, 0-1 Ivy). They nearly beat a top-25 team in Delaware to open the season, when they were leading for most of the game, outgained the Blue Hens on offense, and eventually came up just a point short of a victory.
They followed that up with a win against Lafayette, when senior running back Karekin Brooks ran for over 200 yards. Last week, however, things went a bit awry. The Quakers' offense struggled to move the ball down the field in a loss to Dartmouth. Through the first 57 minutes of football, they had mustered only one offensive touchdown.
One problem in particular that has plagued Penn has been its inability to open games well. Through their first three games, the Red and Blue have scored seven total points in the first quarter, which coach Ray Priore attributes to a mental aspect of the game.
“It’s a mindset. It’s about coming out and playing fast,” Priore said. “On Friday night [against Dartmouth], we had a great first drive. We got the ball to their 32-yard line, and we ended up having to take a 50-yard field goal. We were close, but we have to be sure to continue those drives.”
Part of the team's offensive struggles have been due to injuries. Ryan Cragun, a sophomore wide receiver who burst onto the scene in Penn's first two games with almost 300 total yards, wasn't able to play against Dartmouth, and his absence was noticeable. Cragun's status is up in the air this week as well, but he has been practicing so far this week.
Sacred Heart (3-2, 1-1 NEC) has an explosive offense, scoring 30 or more points in three of its five games this season. Leading the charge is quarterback Logan Marchi, who has passed for 1328 yards and 12 touchdowns so far this year.
Marchi, a fifth year graduated transfer, played at Temple and East Tennessee State earlier in his career. After only appearing in 18 games combined in four years at those schools, he seems to have found his home at Sacred Heart. The Quakers will look to limit his effectiveness in the air, and they have a plan.
“This week, there are going to be a lot of blitzes, a lot of messing with [Marchi’s] head, chirping him,” senior linebacker Zach Evans said. “He’s kind of a hothead. We’re trying to stay in his head, get in his face, get him on the ground.”
On film, it was apparent to Evans that Marchi got rattled if people hit him or got in his face. It has been a point of emphasis this week to break his rhythm and prevent him from settling into the game.
An even bigger emphasis has been placed on creating turnovers and making plays. So far this year, Penn’s defense has forced zero turnovers, while the offense has given the ball away on four occasions.
“Our huge emphasis is getting the football. We haven’t gotten one turnover this year, which is the last step. Our defense has played great — really physical, really fast, we just haven’t gotten the ball. This week, we’re gonna try to get our offense the ball,” Evans said.
The Quakers will look to come out of the gate moving the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on the defensive end. If they can do that, they will be able to build some confidence before fully transitioning to Ivy League play.
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