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Football's offensive unit hopes to spoil Quakers’ homecoming

With big play, Penn looks to its passing game to counter strong aerial attack led by Fuller ’15

A new, pass-happy offense helped the football team to its first Ivy League win last weekend against Cornell, and the aerial strategy could also lift the squad over Penn as the Bears look to secure their second Ivy win Saturday.

Bruno (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) will likely face hostile conditions when it travels to Philadelphia, squaring off with the Quakers (1-5, 1-2 Ivy) on their homecoming — the last homecoming game for storied Penn Head Coach Al Bagnoli, who will retire at the end of the season.

But while the Penn crowd will likely be a formidable obstacle, it’s unclear if the Quaker defensive backfield will put up as strong an opposition. The Penn secondary has struggled mightily as of late, giving up over 300 yards twice in the last three games and over 500 yards once. The only time the team kept an opposing passing game under the 300 mark was against a lukewarm Columbia attack.

Meanwhile, Bruno will attack Penn’s secondary with a rejuvenated aerial attack. In their first four contests of the year, the Bears passed on 50.5 percent of offensive plays, and the offense struggled to put up just 16 points per game.

After falling behind early to Princeton two weeks ago, Head Coach Phil Estes and Offensive Coordinator Frank Sheenan decided to drastically change the offensive strategy. The Bears started to chuck it deep. Bruno has since passed on 70 percent of plays, increased its offensive output by over 100 yards per game (325.5 to 427.5) and pushed its points per game average to 29.

“We passed every frigging down,” said Estes of the new strategy. “If I could have passed more, I would have.”

Quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 has orchestrated the pass-heavy plan masterfully. Against Cornell, he upped his completion percentage and spread the ball to more receivers — completing touchdowns to four different teammates.

If Bruno’s resurgent passing game continues, the offense could put up big numbers against the suspect Penn secondary. But the rise in passing has come at the cost of the rushing game, which is now the weakness of Bruno’s offense.

After winning the Ivy League championship in 2012, the historically strong Penn program has faltered in conference. Brown running back John Spooney ’14 ran all over the Quakers to power Bruno to a 27-0 thumping of Penn last year. The Quakers are out to a 1-2 start against Ivy opponents this year, with both losses ending in double-digit deficits and the only win coming against perennial Ivy cellar-dwellar Columbia.

But Penn’s numbers have been plagued by a challenging schedule thus far. The Ivy losses have come at the hands of league-leading Dartmouth and offensive juggernaut Yale. Out of conference, the Quakers have seen two opponents ranked nationally in the top 20.

The Quaker offense has displayed how dangerous it can be through its big plays in the passing game, said linebacker Dan Giovacchini ’15.

“They have explosive play ability,” he said. “They had big competitions downfield in every game.”

In his first year as a starter, Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen ranks first in the Ivy League in completions, third in passing yards and third in touchdowns. Two Quakers — Spencer Kulcsar and Conner Scott — will be the downfield threats and both rank in the top eight in receiving yards per game.

Similar to their Red and Blue counterparts, Bruno’s secondary has been questionable at times this season. But the Bears’ best defense against the passing game might come from the front seven, which will line up across from a Penn offensive line that has allowed more sacks than any other Ivy team.

With a win, Bruno has a chance to level its Ivy record at 2-2 and improve its overall record above .500 for the first time this year. Look for Fuller’s arm to lead the way if the Bears do end up taking Penn’s homecoming. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday.


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