A fifth year for Ragone, Colavita and Marsh?

With Super Bowl week in full swing, it's worth noting what the Penn football team is up to this offseason. Specifically, three seniors and their plans for an extra season at Franklin Field.

If seniors Billy Ragone, Brandon Colavita and Lyle Marsh have it their way, they'll be back on the field for the 2013 season as fifth-year seniors. Ragone missed his freshman campaign with a shoulder injury, Colavita was out most of last season and Marsh missed much of his sophomore and junior seasons. While Ragone and Marsh have had time to plan their academic schedules in order to gain a fifth year of eligibility from the Ivy League, Colavita has had less time to plan. But according to Penn Associate Director of Communications Eric Dolan, all three plan to apply but have not officially submitted anything to the league.

The trio will have to wait several months before they find out if they can play another season. Official paperwork does not go to the Ivy League until later this semester, and the athletes won't hear from the league office until May — at the earliest. Penn wide receiver Joe Holder, Class of 2012, didn't hear from the Ivy League regarding his fifth-year status until August, just weeks before the season started officially. And Cornell lacrosse player Rob Pannell, who broke his foot in the second game of his season last spring, was approved by the Ivy League in early August.

Three Up, Three Down: Cornell Edition

Breaking down last week’s Three Up Three Down is simple: the ups were right and the downs were wrong. That’s because the Quakers had to be on the up and up in every way to beat Harvard and they were. I predicted they’d be flagged a lot, struggle on third downs and struggle in the running game. They weren't, and they didn’t.

At least I nailed the positives, of which there were so many for Penn last week. Dave Twamley came up with another interception and Conner Scott had a few big catches, including a touchdown. And attendance was even pretty respectable. So who’ll be up and who’ll be down at Cornell?

Three Up —

Andrew Holland: This is Holland’s time to shine, and he couldn’t ask for a better setup for success. He’s going up against the Ivy League’s worst pass defense and looked more than tolerable under center in the final quarter against Harvard, throwing the dagger touchdown to Mitchell King. Up is better than backup, and Holland will get his moment.

Steve Lias: In his final collegiate game, Lias should keep up the stellar linebacker play of the last couple of weeks. Penn linebackers combined for six tackles for a loss and two sacks last week. Against Cornell’s mediocre offensive line, Lias and the rest of this linebacking corps should go out on top.

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Three Up, Three Down: Brown Edition

Last week’s predictions were hit or miss — Billy Ragone struggled more than I expected against Yale’s bottom-ranked scoring defense among Ivies. But I did call the Bulldogs’ gashing of Penn’s defensive front.  Ultimately, though, I would never have guessed that the egg that the Quakers laid at the Yale Bowl would be as big as it was.  So who’s up and who’s down against Brown? 

Three Up —

Tight ends:  In Joe Holder's absence and with Cameron Countryman not a safe bet just yet, tight ends Ryan Allen and Mitch King have been stepping up when needed as secondary targets for Ragone and Holland. King's 32-yard reception in the second quarter from Penn's own 10-yard line jumpstarted an 8-play, 89-yard drive that gave the Quakers their only touchdown of the game last week, and both TEs combined for three catches for 41 yards against Columbia. Brown will undoubtedly match two-time first-team All-Ivy cornerback A.J. Cruz up with Conner Scott, and that should make for quite a battle. Look for Penn's QBs to continue to look to King and Allen to exploit the rest of Brown's average secondary.

Dan Davis:  Davis led all Quakers at Yale with 10 tackles and showed flashes of impressive pursuit in both run and pass blitz situations. Still, his grasp of Penn's complex defensive schemes isn't quite where it needs to be per linebackers coach Dan Wood in this week's Penn Football Weekly.  Davis embodies the rest of the defense in that he has great athleticism, potential, and versatility (playing 11 different positions in high school), but he still isn't experienced enough to be great. Nevertheless, look for him to be a ballhawk Saturday.

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Mano-A-Mano: Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

In this week’s Mano-A-Mano, football writer John Phillips and Associate Sports Editor Mike Tony debate the state of the Quakers’ offense.

John Phillips: It’s one thing to have an off week, where a team comes out flat in the first half. But as Billy Ragone said after the game on Saturday, the team hasn’t put together a full game, two solid halves, yet.

A comeback is great, but really, they were two yards away from losing a game on Saturday that — if this team hopes to compete with Harvard and Cornell — they should have dominated. Slow starts are less of a worry than an inability to play a cohesive, clean 60 minutes, which is what this team has shown.

Mike Tony: It’s true that Penn’s offense has yet to play a complete game, but I’ll take at least one guaranteed interval of dominance when it counts against a solid (not to mention scholarship) William & Mary defense and a Columbia ‘D’ that came in ranked No. 7 in the FCS in sacks per game.

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Three Up, Three Down: Columbia Edition

Last week’s predictions were hit and miss. We definitely got a heavy dose of short passes last week, but we did not see as much from Andrew Holland as expected. No QBs in this week’s list though:

Three Up-

Scott Lopano:  This one’s more of a no-brainer than you might think.  Lopano ranks seventh in the nation  in punting average with 43.9 yards per punt this year, including two over 50 yards.  He has pinned eight of his 18 punts inside the 20-yard line.  If Lopano is able to routinely pin Columbia’s anemic offense  deep in its own territory, it could be lights out for the Lions pretty quickly.

Ryan Mitchell: With Joe Holder out for the year and Conner Scott routinely drawing double coverages, look for Mitchell to get more touches in the passing game. Mitchell currently ranks fourth on the team in receiving yards and is tied for fourth in receptions with Holder. Columbia ranks sixth in passing defense and seventh in passing defense efficiency, so you’d expect Mitchell to take on a more prominent role against the Lions this week.

Sebastian Jaskowski: Jaskowski leads all Ivy defensive backs in tackles and ranks sixth in tackles overall.  He’s been a steady hand in what has often been a shaky secondary this season, and it’s hard to imagine him getting burned much by the worst passing offense in the conference.

Three Down-

Pass protection:  The Lions have three players with at least two sacks this year, led by 2010 and 2011 All-Ivy senior defensive end Josh Martin. Columbia ranks third in the Ivy League in sacks, and Penn allowed four sacks last week to William & Mary. One of the few feasible ways Columbia can pull off the upset is to get consistent pressure from up front on Ragone and benefit from resulting turnovers.

Lyle Marsh as a receiver: Offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin told me this week that he wants to see more downfield success in the passing game in addition to the high-percentage throws Ragone seems most comfortable throwing.  This game is the perfect opportunity to hook up with receivers who can extend the field like Conner Scott, but it might mean less touches for Marsh as a receiver.  William & Mary blitzed often last week, making Marsh a great safety valve for Ragone to throw to. (Marsh had eight receptions for 47 yards.)  But seven of Columbia’s 11 sacks this season have come from the defensive line, suggesting that the Lions may not have to blitz so much to get pressure.  With Penn potentially looking downfield more and Columbia not likely to sell out with the blitz, Marsh’s value as a receiver diminishes.

Kick returners:  Dan Wilk and Dexter Davis may not get a lot of kickoffs to return because the odds are that the Lions won’t be scoring very much.  In this case, kick returners being down means the rest of the team is up.


This Week on 33rd Street: Oct. 12

Penn football enters its Ivy home opener against Columbia coming off a tough weekend during which it fell, 34-28, to William & Mary (see story) and also likely lost fifth-year senior WR Joe Holder for the season to a broken fibula. This week, I sat down with football beat writer Anna Strong and Associate Sports Editor Allison Bart to discuss if it's worth it for the Quakers to play such a tough non-league schedule:

Game 4: William & Mary — The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

After the first win of the season a week ago Saturday at Dartmouth, Penn football was unable to keep up the new trend, falling to the William & Mary Tribe, 34-28. A messy first half started and ultimately determined the game. The Quakers came within six points of the Tribe during a second-half run, but were never able to catch up. The Red and Blue are now 1-3 (1-0 Ivy) and heading back to their Ivy schedule, taking on Columbia next Saturday.

THE GOOD: The passing game (during Penn’s second-half attempted comeback). The turnaround in play showed some promise for the Ivy season. Though the fact that it took the Quakers that long to really get in the game calls for concern, Penn made some major shifts between the two halves — scoring 21 of their 28 points. There wasn’t as big of post-toast dispersal of fans after the third. The fourth quarter had something coming, and though it didn’t have the desired result, the Quakers demonstrated what they have the potential to accomplish. Penn got moving in the second half. Ragone threw for 193 yards in the second half — for a total 207 in the game — and the Quakers got 17 of their 24 first downs.

THE BAD: Non-conference play. The Quakers came within 6 points of avoiding a broken record. After Saturday’s loss, the Quakers have now lost three consecutive non-conference games. This is the first time that this has happened during Bagnoli’s career at Penn. This year especially, Penn had a tough time taking on the scholarship schools with losses to Villanova and Lafayette.

ALSO BAD: Wide receiver Joe Holder is out with a broken fibula, which occurred during the fourth quarter of the matchup.

THE UGLY: Fumbles — four to be exact. These fumbles determined the game. Yes, the Quakers had some great drives in the second half that made the game interesting once again, but with William & Mary’s continued presence on the field, Penn could never recover from the two lost fumbles in the third quarter. Both of these fumbles led to Tribe touchdowns. The Red and Blue lost my six and gave up 14 due to fumbles. These were mistakes the Quakers could not afford to make.

WR Joe Holder breaks fibula in William & Mary game

Update (Sun, Oct. 7, 10:20 PM): Holder told me it's actually his fibula that is broken, not the tibia. A broken tibia would mean no chance of a comeback, but a fibula break gives him a chance at a comeback. - Megan Soisson

Penn wide receiver Joe Holder broke his tibia in Saturday's 34-28 loss to William & Mary, and he's likely out for the season.

Early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Andrew Holland launched a pass intended for Holder, but the pass went wide and Holder went down on the play. He hobbled off the field and did not return to the game.

Al Bagnoli announced in the postgame press conference that he broke his ankle, but in fact Holder broke his tibia.

Holder stayed confident though, and tweeted this after the game:

An inside look at Penn football Media Day

Despite this morning's Philadelphia rain, my co-editors and I went out to Franklin Field for the annual Penn football Media Day. It's a fun and informative morning for all, and this year was no exception.

Mike Wisniewski will have the full rundown in Wednesday's NSO Issue (online Tuesday night) and I have a column of my own coming, but until then, enjoy this inside look from senior wide receiver Joe Holder. He discusses Penn's new alternate uniforms (a big hit among the players) and the  story of the day: Billy Ragone's facial hair. Thanks to @PENNfb and the Penn Sports Network for the footage.

If you missed our photos today, check them out on Twitter (@dailypennsports) and Instagram (dailypennsports). We'll have some more video footage and photos up soon, as well.

Guest Blog: Sunday with Mr. Blackmon

If you needed to have your blood pressure checked after this game, then you are not the only one.

The Quakers made sure their second Ivy League game was just like their first and came down to the last drive. Columbia played much of the first half with a great deal of energy that seemed to catch the offense off guard until the final drive of the first half when Billy Ragone punched it in to tie the score in the final seconds of the half.

Penn's defense in the first half was its typical self, loading up to stop the run and hoping the secondary could keep things in front of them. For the most part the secondary was able to to take care of business and keep the Columbia offense at bay. There were a few big plays by Columbia's offense but when a team makes 39 pass attempts they are bound to make a few plays, it's just they way the game goes.

This may have been one of the more balanced games Penn's offense has had in a few years. There were 35 pass attempts and 42 rush attempts. If the Quakers can keep up this type of a balanced attack then it will be tough for the other Ivy League teams to keep up with what type of plays Penn will be running for the rest of the year. One of the key plays in the second half came midway through the third quarter when Matt Hamscher picked off Sean Brackett and Penn was able to make it a 4 point game with a field goal and keep their morale at a high level.

In the 4th quarter Penn was able to pull back in front only to allow Columbia to tie it up with a field goal with just a few minutes left in the game. Penn, for the second straight Ivy game, was able to make a last minute drive all the way down the field to take the lead and show that they know you have to play an entire 4 quarters to be an elite team. The final drive was highlighted yet again by some clutch catches from 5th-year senior Ryan Calvert, who also went over the century mark in receiving yards for the game tallying 8 receptions for 105 yards. The exclamation point was put on the game with an interception by wide receiver Joe Holder.

If Penn can continue to show this sort of resilience they will be in good shape for their 3-peat efforts.