Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Scouting Penn

The last time Columbia beat Penn, everyone was talking about this play

Both Columbia's and Penn's game notes have been released, but I am having trouble getting access to Penn's two-deep for some reason. I'll check back just to make sure that top Quaker RB Brandon Colavita is still out for this game because of an injury that left him on crutches at the end of the Dartmouth game.

It's been a while since I looked at the history of this series, but it occurred to me the other day that the last time the Lions beat the Quakers, it was also during a period when the Yankees and the Orioles were playing each other in the MLB postseason.  

Of course, barring some rainouts, the Yankee-Oriole series will be OVER by Friday night, but you get the idea.

The 1996 win over Penn, an OT thriller decided by a partially blocked PAT, was a jewel in that 8-2 Columbia season which still stands as the best year for the Lions in many decades. 

Since that win the Quakers have won 15 straight over CU, which is by far the longest Ivy vs. Ivy streak in the league.

I would call seven of the Penn wins blowouts. They are the games from 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007.

Six were not routs, but very clear wins by better Penn teams. They are the games from 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2010.

And there have really only been two games you could call close. They are the games from 2008 and last year's 27-20 last minute Quaker win in New York. 

After 15 years of domination, any shred of respect Penn fans may have had for Columbia has disappeared. Thus the rivalry has become nasty, with bad feeling all around.

So I ask the fans, the players and even the new coaches: Is there a game Columbia could win this win that would bring more satisfaction, happiness and pride to this organization than this Penn game? 

I say the answer is; "not even close."

Here's what the Lions are up against..


Much of what Penn is doing offensively should very instructive for the Columbia coaches. Most of the QB work is being done by Billy Ragone, who has been been streaky this season. But he was at his absolute best against Dartmouth when he ran and passed the Quakers to victory. Despite some injury issues in Ragone's past and present, Head Coach Al Bagnoli never hesitates for too long when it comes to turning his top QB loose. 

One new reason for that is Bagnoli is getting decent performances from back-up pocket passer Andrew Holland. Holland almost rallied Penn to a win over Lafayette in week one, but a running and gunning Ragone is what Bagnoli wants and that's what he's getting right now. 

The running game has been solid, but will be suspect now with Colavita healthy. Jeff Jack is an excellent runner though, as it Lyle Marsh despite a number of injuries during his career. Add it all up, and Penn still has a very good 150-yard per game rushing attack. 

Penn's steady, high percentage passing attack has been clicking nicely too. The top receiver is Conner Scott with 29 receptions for 353 yards. But his longest reception is for just 29 yards. In fact, the longest reception of the entire season for the Quakers is 43 yards and it was really just a run after the catch by Jeff Jack. Like I said, Penn has a short and steady passing attack.

The Quakers O-line has allowed nine sacks so far this year, which is not great but not terrible.


Here's where things are a little screwy in Philadelphia. 

Penn's defense has been uncharacteristically average for two years now. The promised improvements over last season's drop in quality have not materialized.

The rush defense, which was an eye-popping strength for the Quakers in 2009 and 2010, is allowing 138 yards on the ground each game. Through the air, Penn allows a non-lethal 211 yards per game, but a closer look at the passing stats yields these facts: opposing teams are completing a healthy 67% completion rate and they're getting a very lethal 8.7 yards per pass! And the secondary has intercepted just two passes so far this season. 

Special Teams

Kicker Connor Loftus has made two short field goals and missed a 43-yarder in just three attempts this season. He's a perfect 9-9 on PAT's. Punter Scott Lopano is one of the best in the Ivies with a 44-yard average. 

Kickoff returns, where we thought we might see freshman supposed sensation Cameron Countryman, has been done by committee this year with the leader being Dexter Davis who has a nice 23 yard per return average. (Countryman does not seem to have hit the field at all this year). Penn's coverage teams may be the best in the league.

Word of Caution

As usual, you have to take a lot of Penn's early season stats with a grain of salt. The tough match-ups against William & Mary and Villanova weren't exactly as brutal as they could have been, but not many Ivy teams would come out of those games looking very solid.

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