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2018 Week 4, Penn: Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction

(Photo Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer)

It's time to go full nerd and do a full-blown breakdown of the Penn Quakers.

Penn's game notes were out in good time, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, thankfully, still does a pretty good job in covering the Quakers in an independent way.  Both were invaluable for my analysis.

Unusually, Lehigh faces Penn this time around in a game that is not the Quakers' season opener.  In prior years that made it tricky for the Mountain Hawks to sometimes get a full sense of what head coach Ray Priore might be doing, because there would be no true game film to study, only practice film and, if they're lucky, an accurate two-deep.

This year, though, Penn has already had their first game, playing Bucknell in a game which they won 34-17.  It was a strange contest, basically won in the first five minutes thanks to 17 points donated to the Quakers via two Bison turnovers and a blocked punt.  Both teams would only put up 17 points the rest of the way each.


The last-minute injury information I've been able to find out on Lehigh is that senior RB Dominick Bragalone will be playing this weekend.  He has been cleared to play after suffering a head injury two weeks ago against Villanova.  It must be very tempting for head coach Andy Coen to line up both Bragalone and last weeks freshman Patriot League player of the week RB Rashawn Allen in the backfield at the same time.  That's going to be one of the interesting storylines entering this weekend's contest.

One other significant injury is LB Keith Woetzel, who suffered a hand injury last week against Navy and is officially out this week.  It is hoped he'll be back in time for Princeton, and in the meantime sophomore LB Pete Haffner is in line for his first-ever start at linebacker in his place, with junior LB Jon Seighman also getting time backing him up.

Folks might want to be looking over the lineups on the field this weekend for OL Jackson Evans and DB Kareem Montgomery, both of whom are questionable to play as of the current time.  If Evans can't play, C Tim Wagner will continue to line up at center, while we could see more of DB Tre Neal if Montgomery can't go.

QB Ryan Glover (Philly Inquirer)
Breaking Down Penn
Offense

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.   They are a sort-of hybrid offense with some spread elements but in the past has mixed in with that run focus a deadly passing game, most recently involving WR Justin Watson, who is currently on the 53 man roster of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

However the deadly passing combination of last season has graduated, so head coach Ray Priore has had to break in a new athletic dual-threat quarterback this season, sophomore QB Ryan Glover.

As might be befitting the first-ever start, Glover's report card against Bucknell was mixed, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.  He converted 2 TD passes and ran for 48 yards, but also lobbed two interceptions and fumbled the ball once as well.

"The two balls he threw for touchdowns were outstanding throws," Priore said said. "What I liked was that, on the day, he made no poor decisions with the ball. We always talk about making the right decisions, and sometimes the right decision is to throw the ball into the stands. The loose ball [on the fumble] is the thing I'd probably critique the hardest. It was a lot of those first-game situations, where a kid learns a lot by playing those live scenarios.  [But] Glover showed poise under fire, he scrambled, not throwing the ball and trying to force things. That was a great first step in his development."

The early lead allowed Priore to let Glover get his feet wet, and as a result Penn didn't really need to lean to heavily on RB Karekin Brooks for a ton of production, who had a grand total of 81 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. 

Alert Lehigh fans who haven't blacked out the memory of last season's game against Penn will remember all too well that Brooks absolutely torched Lehigh in the game of his career, who had 268 all-purpose yards against the Mountain Hawks and 3 touchdown runs in Penn's cringe-inducing 65-47 win at Murray Goodman last year.  He almost totalled over 300 yards from scrimmage, but a 68 yard run was called back due to a penalty.

Any questions about the skill level of this offense should begin and end there.

Glover spread the ball around to five different receivers with his twelve completed passes.  Notably, most went to backup RB Abe Willows and one to Brooks.  When he did look towards the wideouts, he found the starters, junior WR Tyler Herrick, junior WR Kolton Huber and senior WR Steve Farrell with his targets. 6'3 senior TE Logan Sharp wasn't a target in the passing game last week.  At 6'4, Farrell is probably the biggest potential matchup problem in the passing game.

300 lb senior LT Tommy Dennis anchored an offensive line that yielded 0 sacks against their your quarterback.  Other than Dennis and junior C Dennis Gibbs the Penn O line is young and inexperienced.  It will be the least experienced O line Lehigh has faced this season.

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.  It should be similar to what Lehigh's offense faced against Navy last week, which was also a base 3-4 defense.

Though Penn has lost some starters from last year's defense they do return a bunch of lettermen, and the front seven on Penn had a field day against Bucknell, notching (and this is not a typo) ten sacks against the Bison.  270 lb senior NG Cooper Gardner alone had three sacks, which illustrates perfectly the challenge Lehigh's offensive line faces this week.  Against most teams, nose guard equals run stuffer, but if last week were any indications, Lehigh needs to worry about blitzing up the middle, too.

LB Nick Miller (Getty Images)
The linebacking duo of sophomore LB Brian O'Neill (11 tackles) and senior LB Nick Miller (10 tackles) were very effective as well last week, continuing their tremendous play from last season where they both worked together very effectively. 

It's difficult to say how effective Penn's pass defense really is against Bucknell's dink-and-dunk offense, but they did hold them to 158 yards and also nabbed one interception.  All-Ivy SS Sam Phillipi, who played against Lehigh last week, is out and in the hospital, though, so junior SS Tayte Doddy is starting in his place.  Senior CB Jyron Walker is the most experienced hand in the secondary with Phillipi's absence.

Special Teams

Senior PK Jack Soslow is probably a kicker that is as reliable as they come at the FCS level.  Last week he nailed a 49 yard FG and has made 37 straight PATs.  P Drew Brennan was a below-average punter last week, getting 36.8 yards per punt and 6 punts.

5'5 sophomore RS Isaiah Malcolme might be small, but don't you dare overlook this speedy returner, who got 40 yards in punt returns against Bucknell last week.  He has already proven that he is dangerous in the return game.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Crank up the Pass Machine.  Everything points to passing.  Penn's secondary, with the loss of Phillipi, has questions that need answering.  Senior QB Brad Mayes we all know has the skill set to pick apart a young secondary - if he has time to throw.  It is going to be critical that the offensive line provide consistent protection to let Mayes get some rhythm and weave some magic. 

2.  Pro Set?  Unveiling a pro set with two running backs at Lehigh is kind of like dusting off an old John Whitehead Wing-T playbook, but with two tremendous running backs senior RB Dominick Bragalone and freshman RB Rashawn Allen, it's tempting.  Is there a way to cook something up, even if it's just for a couple plays?   If something works off of this, it could knock Penn's defense out of their comfort zone and set up a big offensive day.

3. No gifts.  Andy Coen said during the postgame last week, if you turn over the ball five times, you won't beat anybody.  Penn has shown that they have the capability of converting gifts into points, which is how they beat Bucknell last week.  Ball protection - and ball stripping on defense - might be the big difference.

Fearless Prediction

Lehigh has had an unusual out-of-conference schedule this season, with an FBS game and a game against a Top 25 team back-to-back.  Will the challenge of playing those two teams in that way prepare the Mountain Hawks to bust their two-game losing streak and get back on the right track?  With Princeton in two weeks, then the Patriot League slate ahead, this game feels especially important in terms of the direction of Lehigh's season.

I think the experience of the last two weeks will pay dividends for the Mountain Hawks this week.  I can see the game slowing down for Lehigh, and while Penn has a mountain of talent and should improve a lot from Week 1 to Week 2, I still think they could be a step behind Lehigh, and that might be the difference.  Expect a close game, but with the Mountain Hawks just pulling out the win.

Lehigh 34, Penn 27

Comments

Anonymous said…
You lose credibility picking Lehigh every week. They should win but they won't. Defense is still soft and defensive backs have no clue.
Chuck B '92 said…
Might want to check the predictions of the last two weeks, sport.
Anonymous said…
Nice prediction jackass.
Anonymous said…
Why do you attack Chuck, and the defense? D is obviously improved this year. I saw an offense that had no heart yesterday. Brad Mayes is vvery disappointing with his lack of fire and will. even with that young and overmatched O Line. The only saving grace right now is that the Lafayette Leopards are absolutely atrocious again..maybe THE worst FCS team in America. Unless a spark gets lit fast, our Mountain Hawks won't be lifting any trophy this year.
Punk Rope said…
Given the constraints of Lehigh’s academic standards and the challenges of recruiting, what do you guys think about the idea of having the Patriot League compete mainly with the Ivy League. I know it will never happen but I’m envisioning either a 4-team playoff (#1 plays #2 in each league to reach the championship game) or the top teams in each league square off the week after Thanksgiving. I could see this approach being a much better fit for the teams in both leagues and maybe it will help boost attendance as well. Given the current trajectory can you imagine Lehigh ever being competitive with North Dakota State?
Anonymous said…
Actually if trends continue the PL won't even be competitive with the Ivys at this rate. Its really bad this year with the exception of Colgate. Yale blew out MAINE yesterday, a team that has been playing FBS programs very close recently. Penn, which dominated Lehigh, got blown out by Dartmouth. Princeton may be the best Ivy program this year, so I really fear for next week's game. That being said, I think Lehigh will play much better. But they are big underdogs.

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