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Penn At Lehigh Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: How Much Do We Really Know About The Quakers?

(Photo Credit: The Daily Pennsylvanian)

We break down the Penn game - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

Last week, head coach Andy Coen made a big deal about the many changes Yale made to their approach on both offense and defense.  Penn will not have the same element of surprise this week - to some degree.

Certainly Penn head coach Ray Priore, who has his main staff intact from last year with offensive coordinator John Reagan and defensive coordinator Bob Benson, will likely have a similar approach to what they want to do on both sides of the ball from last season - after all, they were Ivy League co-champions.

But last week wasn't a normal type of opener for the Quakers.

Playing a Division II school for the first time in program history, Division II Ohio Dominican allowed Penn to play a sort-of experimental setup.  Though Penn got a win that counts in the standings just like any other win, 42-24, using it as a hard and fast rule on how they will come out against Lehigh might be a big mistake.


A heaping thanks to Penn's game notes and the excellent writers over at The Daily Pennsylvanian for their great articles that helped make this preview.

Breaking Down Penn
Offense

Here's what we know about Penn's offense from the past two years.

Offensive coordinator John Reagan came to Penn from Kansas, bringing with him his somewhat conventional spread-run offense.  At Kansas, Reagan was definitely old-school in terms of his type of offense, emphasizing time of possession and sustained drives, kind of an anti-Chip Kelly approach.  Overall, like Lehigh's, Penn's offense works best when it's balanced: 50% run, 50% pass.

Penn will be lining up with the same type of base three wideout set as years past, with a single setback, and tight end in a standard spread set.  But one thing we don't know for certain is which quarterback will get the most time.

Last season, Penn had a gem in QB Alek Torgersen, who had a stellar career for the Quakers but for whatever reason seemed to struggle to get it going versus Lehigh.  This year, Priore is breaking in a new quarterback, and even as of last week's game he seemed undecided as to who should be getting the most snaps.

Fisher-Colbrie, Glover, Robinson (Philly.com)
Listed as the "starter" and first on the depth chart is a transfer from Colorado of the FBS, senior QB Will Fisher-Colbrie.  It's pretty clear that Priore wants him to take over the starting role, but he struggled early against Ohio Dominican before settling in during the second half.  When he struggled, sophomore QB Nick Robinson came in and created the only Quaker points in that half with a 59 yard TD pass.

“During the week, we had said that we were doing it [subbing quarterbacks] no matter what it was going to be," Priore said.  "Obviously, it gave the glare and the appearance that ‘oh my god he [Fischer-Colbrie] wasn’t doing well’, but then he went right back in. “I think it was really, really good for him to settle down, relax, and see the game.”

"You could probably tell I had to get my feet underneath me there, you know after the first quarter, first half. But after that, it felt good,” Fischer-Colbrie said. “It felt like I was playing football again, which is something I really enjoy to do, and I just had to get back to that.”

Colbrie has some athleticism but is seen by me as more of a pocket passer.  Something interesting to monitor might be Robinson, whom I see as the better runner, possibly coming in when Penn gets in the red zone and desires a more mobile, running QB.  If any of them struggle, freshman QB Ryan Glover, is listed on the depth chart.

But the truth is, we don't know if Priore will continue a timeshare at QB or not.  It's probably the biggest question the Mountain Hawks will face on defense.

Whomever the QB is, they'll have a preseason FCS All-American to throw to,

WR Justin Watson
Senior WR Justin Watson has been blossoming as a star for several years now, and is a known quantity, having led the Ivy League last season in receptions (89), receiving yards (1,115) and receiving touchdowns (8).  Going into this weekend, the Bridgeville, PA native had 14 career 100 yard receiving games - two of which came against Lehigh - and if he does it a third time, he'll tie the Ivy League record in that category.

At 6'3 and 210 lbs, Watson makes for a tall target with impressive speed, and he can kill you from different spots on the field.  Though their personalities are different, he's eerily similar to Lehigh senior WR Troy Pelletier in the way they play, how they work to get openings.

One thing that Penn's QB won't have, however, is a receiving corps that is as experienced as Lehigh's as a group.  Junior WR Christian Pearson lines up on the other side of Watson, and junior WR Steve Farrell lines up in the slot, but senior TE Nicholas Bokun proved to be a favorite target of both QBs, nabbing 5 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.  Bokun surely poses some matchup issues as a 6'4, 255 lb TE with good hands.

In prior seasons, it's been the Quaker Way to establish the running game with a stable of running backs, and Penn's talent back there has been impressive.  However, they may be an injury concern in the backfield.

Senior RB Tre Solomon (453 yards, 7 TDs) left the Ohio Dominican game in the first quarter with what appeared to be ankle injury.  He's still listed at No. 1 on the depth chart, but if he can't go, that's a huge blow to the Quaker offense, who has come to rely on his abilities as both a speed rusher, receiver - and, in one instance, as passer.

Last week, though, Penn's rushing offense didn't miss a beat with his backup, sophomore RB Karekin Brooks, who tore up the Ohio Dominican defense for 164 yards and 2 TDs, both on the ground and through the air.  As a Lehigh fan, that doesn't exactly make me feel great, after seeing opponents rack up big rushing days against the Mountain Hawks, nor does the emergence of sophomore RB Abe Willows, who chipped in 73 yards rushing on 10 carries.

If Solomon is healthy and can go, a Penn 1-2 punch of Solomon and Brooks, with Willows chipping in, keeps me up at night.  As a unit, this is an elite group that doesn't even lose all that much if Solomon is out, and if Lehigh can't at least slow this group down, they could be in trouble.

Penn's offensive line is loaded with big guys, most notably 300 lb senior C Nate Kirchmier, and in Ivy League play they've looked like all-stars in the past.  Worthy of note the right side of the O line is being broken in with two sophomores who had some time on the starting squad last year.  But for the fourth straight week, Lehigh can expect a physical, tough offensive line that has been very effective carving out rushing yards but gave up a couple of sacks last week.

Defense

Head coach Ray Priore has for years overseen Penn's multiple 3-4 defense, and once again will be bringing out a multiple 3-4 defense that frankly is LFN's favorite style of defense.  I love the flexibility the linebacker gives you, the multiple looks, and what it opens up - I fell in love with it with the Saints' Dome Patrol, and still love it.

The Quakers defensive front returns all three starters from the Lehigh game last year, senior DE Tayler Hendricksen,  junior NG Brody Graham, and senior DE Louis Vechio.

Vechio really stood out last week vs. Ohio Dominican, notching 7 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss and, for good measure, tipping a pass and recovering a fumble, while Graham tore his ACL in the Lehigh opener last year and must be eager to face off against the Mountain Hawks this time around.

Penn's linebackers were a true work in progress last year but return two standouts, 2016's leading tackler senior LB Colton Moskal and senior LB Brandon Mills.  Along with junior LB Nick Miller, Moskal and Miller both had 10 tackles last week, while Mills rotates in with yougsters sophomore LB Connor Jangro and junior LB Nico Ament.

FS Sam Phillipi
In the secondary, the Quakers do return some experience, most notably budding star junior FS Sam Phillipi and steady junior CB Jyron Walker, but overall the unit struggled through the air vs. Ohio Dominican, giving up 353 yards passing.  Sophomore CB Conor O'Brien and junior FS Luke Bullock round out this unit.

Special Teams

On special teams, Penn is breaking in a new kicker, junior PK Jack Soslow, who is 0/2 on career FG attempts but was 6/6 last week on extra points.  Senior P Hunter Kelley is a veteran punter who did boom a 56 yard punt last week but only averaged 38.4 yards per punt.

5'5, 170 lb speedster freshman RB Isaiah Malcome was the primary guy in returning both punts and kicks, logging 151 return yards and several 25 yard returns.  That's pretty good work in his first game as a Quaker.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Pouncing on Penn Early.  Lehigh's recipe for victory against Penn at Murray Goodman two years ago was to jump to a quick lead and force Penn to play catch-up.  Lehigh has fallen victim to early two-touchdown deficits this in all three losses this year, and if Lehigh is to prevent another instance of this they'll need to get to an early lead.  Penn is similar to Lehigh in that they crave balance - so jumping up by two scores early might have a similar destabilizing effect on Penn.  Can Lehigh break that script?

2. Upsetting the Balance.  If Lehigh can meet the challenge of containing Penn's run game and force 3rd-and-longs, that would really help Penn to become more one-dimensional and allow the secondary to double-team Watson in the passing game.  Penn's offense will never not be dangerous, but upsetting the balance will really help Lehigh prevent a comeback try if it comes to that.

3. Limiting Turnovers.  Lehigh's offense, for the most part, hasn't been turning over the ball, but on the few occasions when they have in the last three weeks, it's been disastrous.  The negative momentum from these turnovers almost seem to bleed into the defense's psyche, allowing critical touchdowns.  People talk about the yardage given up by Lehigh's defense and the early deficits, but in all three games Lehigh comeback attempts have been thwarted by turnovers turned into touchdowns in 2, 3, or 4 plays.  Turnovers might happen, but turnovers like this in key spots have to stop, otherwise it's going to be a very long season.

Fearless Prediction

The past few weeks, I've talk a lot about breaking out of game scripts and breaking out of losing patterns in football games.  Certainly my analogy of a football game following a script can be a bit overdone.  Yet I keep going back to it because it still seems so apt to this team.

Lehigh is 0-3, but in all three of these football games three acts seem to show up in every script.

ACT I: Lehigh falls behind 2 scores
ACT II: Lehigh attempts comeback, but turnover followed by TD thwarts effort
ACT III: Forced to become one-dimensional. Lehigh can't complete comeback and loses

And yet, all isn't lost, either, even though it can feel like that sometimes.

What if those turnovers in Act II don't happen?  Maybe Lehigh gets a lead on Villanova and hangs on, and manages a close win against Yale.  What if Lehigh jumps to a 14-0 lead instead of falling behind 14-0?  Perhaps Monmouth doesn't run every down at the end of the game and becomes one-dimensional, or Villanova is forced to pass more often.

So I return to the analogy of the script, and the dire need of Lehigh to break out of this script.  Penn is a good team, and can win if they get the same Acts I, II, and III of prior weeks.  But I keep waiting for the Lehigh team that breaks even one aspect of this script.  If that happens, and Lehigh gets that first win and thus learns how to win again, what could happen?

Lehigh 42, Penn 34

Comments

Anonymous said…
Chuck, lets save you some time this week, so you can concentrate on your Drink of the Week, which is the only thing interesting to us these days.

Early fearless prediction on Wagner-Lehigh:

Wagner 59, LU 52. Mayes 39-50 for 475, Casey 4 more TD catches. Dom back and healthy tears up the Wagner D for 189 yard. Unfortunately, the 3rd string Wagner tailback will have a career day with 10 carries for 202 yards and 3 TDs.

We should be thrilled if LU could hold the Seahawks under 60.

Seriously. It would be definite progress.

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