FOOTBALL | The fight for first

The University of Pennsylvania Quakers have beaten Yale 13 out of the past 18 times. The Bulldogs (4–1, 2–0 Ivy) have not scored a touchdown against the Quakers (4–1, 2–0) since 2007.

But this year’s Yale squad thinks it can put a stop to this streak.

The Bulldogs will look to profit from a home field advantage on Saturday, starting at noon. In fact, four of the Bulldogs’ past five wins against Penn came in the Yale Bowl.

The Elis need to continue that success at home to remain at the top of Ivy League standings. Their undefeated league record so far puts them even with Penn and Brown for the first place in the league. But, on paper, Penn is the toughest opponent Yale will play this season.

The Quakers are currently ranked 20th in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). They beat Yale 9–0 last year on their way to an undefeated season and the Ivy League championship. Their ranking shows that they have not let up the pace this season. Penn’s one loss came at the hands of Villanova, then the second-ranked team in the FCS. They have extended their Ivy League winning streak to ten games with victories over Dartmouth and Columbia.

The key of the Penn’s success has been its defense. In addition to the fact that they lead the Ivy League in every major defensive statistic, the Quakers have given up only 249.4 yards per game, fourth in the FCS.

The Bulldogs, led by quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, boast the Ivy League’s top offense, despite last week’s low-scoring victory over Fordham.

Witt was hit hard and often in the Dartmouth game on October 9 and walked into the locker room with a separated shoulder that kept him off the field against Fordham last week. The timing of his injury was fortuitous; the quarterback served a one-game suspension from the NCAA as he sat out the game.

Witt said he received a ticket to an NFL game as a present from a friend who is a player in the league and whom he met in a situation unrelated to football. He said he thought of it as nothing more than a gift from a friend until he talked to Yale’s NCAA compliance officer, who identified it as a violation of the association’s rule that prohibits “Preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletic reputation or skill.”

Witt and Yale self-reported the violation, but the NCAA was not satisfied and suspended the starting quarterback. He did not, however, have to miss any practice, and is expected to be at full speed against Penn.

Almost all of the Bulldogs’ offensive leaders experienced the difficulty of moving the ball against Penn during last year’s shutout. But the attack’s statistics this season show that it has improved as a unit.

The most important test of that cohesiveness is likely to come on the line of scrimmage. Yale’s offensive line is allowing only a fifth of the sacks per game that it did last year, but they have been hurt in recent games by injuries to crucial starters. Center Jake Koury ’11, right guard Gabe Fernandez ’12, and left tackle Alex Golubiewski ’11 have all missed time in the past two weeks.

All are expected back this week. They will hope to play together like the unit they were in the first two games of the season if they are to create enough time for Witt in the pocket and open up holes for running back Alex Thomas ’12.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Golubiewski said.

Both Witt and Thomas return to the field after sitting out against Fordham. Head coach Tom Williams said this week that Thomas is looking much sharper in practice after resting his injured rib last week.

Yale will still be missing tailback Mordecai Cargill ’13, who underwent surgery on Wednesday and is expected to miss at least one more game.

If Penn is able to stifle the Yale attack, the Elis will look to their defense, which has preserved close wins in the past two weeks with crucial takeaways. Safety Adam Money ’11 and cornerback Chris Stanley ’12, each of whom have been responsible for a key interceptions and fumble recovery, will lead Yale against an offense that has not won the turnover battle in any of its last seven games.

But the secondary is not likely to see many passes on Saturday. Penn boasts the league’s best rushing offense and is happy to let it control the game. Against Columbia last week, Quakers’ quarterback Billy Ragone attempted only five passes as Penn earned 281 yards on the ground.

Ragone, whose 48.5 yards rushing per game put him third on the Quakers, is likely to tuck the ball and run on occasion, but he will typically hand the ball off to tailbacks Jeff Jack and Ben Colavita, who took over after starter Lyle Marsh went down for the season. Jack and Colavita are averaging 48.4 and 62 yards respectively in the team’s five games.

But the inside linebackers in Yale’s new 4–3 defense have found success stopping the run so far this year.

“To be honest, I’m disappointed how well they’ve been playing,” said Penn coach Al Bagnoli in a conference call on Tuesday. “I thought we finally got rid of the old guys. But they have some physical guys who can come in and stop the run.”

Bagnoli, whose seven Ivy League championships put him at the top of the all-time list, grew up in East Haven, five minutes from the Yale Bowl.

“We know Penn was ranked 1 or 2 in the preseason,” said defensive lineman and captain Tom McCarthy ’11. “But we’re not too worried about that right now. We’re 2–0 and this is a really important league game that can set the tone for the rest of the year.”

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