It has been well over a century now since Penn has recorded a win over Villanova on the Gridiron. While the Wildcats have the advantage in this series, the Quakers have been close to finally ending their drought on more than a few occasions. Now, in head coach Al Bagnoli's final season at Franklin Field, the Quakers will be scheming to try again.
Last week, Penn opened their season with a road trip to take on Jacksonville University (FL), losing 34-31 after a late touchdown drive.
(1) With the Ivy League starting their season a couple of weeks after the rest of FCS, how hard is it for Penn to hit the ground running heading into the season? Does it even matter what happens in non-conference?
I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, but yes, it is very hard to hit the ground running for any Ivy League team heading into the season. The Ivy teams start the season so late into the year that it is so hard for them to get any sort of rhythm going into conference play. Especially with the Quakers play a team like Villanova that offers scholarships and is No. 6 in FCS, how the heck is Penn supposed to play with them? I have no clue and despite the rivalry, Penn really needs to stop playing the Wildcats or any teams from the CAA. It is a recipe for injuries and embarrassing losses.
(2) Al Bagnoli has been a fixture at Franklin Field for two decades, who will succeed him? How important is it for the program to have another great season before he retires?
At the same press conference where they announced Bagnoli's impending retirement, the school also announced that Ray Priore, his assistant who has actually been at Penn for longer than he has, will take his place after Penn's Nov. 22nd game against Cornell. Priore has gotten rave reviews from everyone I've talked with in the program and should be able to win Ivy titles at Penn. As for the second part, I'd say pretty important. There is nothing like sending someone out on top. I'm a diehard Yankees fan and it's tough to watch Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter's final games be regular season games and not the postseason. Similarly for Bagnoli, if the final games of the year against Harvard and Cornell are meaningless, it will be an especially sad farewell to the most successful coach in Penn history.
Also, it is sad to end anyone's career in Ithaca, N.Y in November. Not only is this your last football game but here's some frostbite as well!
(3) Jacksonville's big comeback against the Quakers last week must have been disappointing. What caused their 4th-quarter collapse?
Yeah, wow. Didn't expect that one. I think everyone in the Daily Pennsylvanian offices was expecting a blowout win for Penn and the Quakers just couldn't pull away. Honestly, the collapse comes from two things: inexperience and defensive problems. The inexperience is inevitable with Penn playing its first game while Jacksonville is playing its third. A sophomore starting QB who had just 10 career passes going into the game isn't going to be quite on the level you want him to be.
That being said, the defense can't give up a two-minute, 87-yard drive to Jacksonville like that. Penn's defensive woes started in the final four games of last season and it seems like they may carry into this year. If John Robertson doesn't torch the Red and Blue, consider me surprised.
(4) Alek Torgersen led Penn in both rushing and passing, is the Sophomore a true dual-threat? How has the Penn offense changed to accommodate his skillset?
His running ability also surprised everyone. Al Bagnoli had been telling us for a month that Torgersen wasn't the same duel-threat QB that Billy Ragone (the starter for the last four years) was and yet he goes out and creates a ton with his legs. The team actually made the offense more pro-style, no-huddle, fast-ish to adapt to his and the rest of the offense's skill set. So I was surprised to see him running that much. I think Bagnoli will have him lay off a bit against Villanova and stick to the pocket, but he certainly displayed his running ability last week.
And as to his throwing ability, he has a very strong arm. His inaccuracy last week is likely just the growing pains of a first-year starting QB and I have to think he'll get better with more time under center.
Also, if any commenters have nickname suggestions for Torgersen, we are open to anything. We used to harp on Billy Ragone's glorious beard but now we are stuck with a cleanly shaven sophomore QB. Nicknames make sports so much more exciting, don't they?
(5) Who are Penn's key defensive players? How will they look to pressure Villanova's John Robertson?
Penn has a solid defense, at least on paper. Austin Taps, their junior defensive end, can create pressure and get the QB pretty well. Senior linebacker Dan Davis is the best all-around defender for the Red and Blue since Brandon Copeland graduated (currently on the Titans practice squad). He'll be a factor in the backfield but will also be key to limiting Robertson on the ground as well. Penn's secondary is its most experienced position with fifth-year seniors Dan Wilk and Evan Jackson working alongside talented players like junior Kenny Thomas.
I don't think Penn can stop Robertson. Containing him will also be an issue. I was at the Nova-Penn game two years ago when Penn's defense was even better and Robertson still had a strong day against the Red and Blue.
(6) Most importantly, are the students going to come out to do that thing where they chuck some toast on the track? What is that tradition all about anyway?
Ah, the toast toss. A great Penn tradition that is slowing dying with no one going to football games. There will indeed be people tossing toast, a tradition that comes from a school song (with the last line of "Here's a toast to dear old Penn") and to the old Rocky Horror Picture Shows (Check this article out if you are interested in the full story). You really can't make this stuff up.
I am normally a lot more tongue and cheek but I will say this very seriously: there will likely be a really empty Franklin Field on Saturday (except maybe on the Villanova sideline) and it pains me to see. Most Penn students have no idea why we do the toast toss and the majority of the fans that do show up will leave as soon as toast is thrown (it won't help that Villanova will be up 2-3 touchdowns). If this was seven years ago, I'd say everyone is waiting for men's basketball season but that certainly isn't the case... Yikes.