The rumors are true: The Penn Quakers are going to play a football game this weekend.
This year, calendar quirks kept the Ivy League away from the game field even longer than usual. Saturday, that changes. Penn will play at Delaware. First game for the Quakers, fourth for the Blue Hens.
A game at Delaware (2-1) would be an uphill battle even without that little wrinkle.
“If you’re going to get strong, you’ve got to lift heavy,’’ Penn coach Ray Priore said of facing a Delaware team that he describes as typical of the Colonial Athletic Association — “bigger, stronger, faster.”
Penn annually starts late because the Ivy League can finish a little later without needing a window for the FCS playoffs — since the league does not participate in it.
“It seems like it’s gone on forever,’’ Priore said of the preseason. “Our kids have adapted well.”
The coach explained how it works, that in the Ivy League, you count back 10 weeks from Thanksgiving to the opener.
“It’s a late Thanksgiving, really early Labor Day,’’ Priore said. “How it fell.”
The bigger impact of that, he suggested, was on the practice schedule.
“Everyone gets 25 days of practice before your first game,’’ Priore said. “NCAA rules, when you’re in camp, it’s four hours of practice, but unlimited lifting and meetings. Once you hit the first day of school, you’re in the 20-hour work week, that’s all.”
Priore estimates he lost six days of those extended hours from last year.
“It’s significant,’’ he said.
The good news: The rest of the Ivy league teams have the same schedule. But Penn has to get through the Delaware and Lafayette games first before Dartmouth comes to Franklin Field on Oct. 4 for its league opener.
More good news: Penn has the kind of players who can jumble all the variables around like a Rubik’s Cube and come up with some positives from the delay.
“I think, honestly, we can use it to our advantage,’’ said Quakers offensive tackle Greg Begnoche, a senior who was honorable mention All-Ivy at right tackle last season. “Being able to watch three weeks of college football and also three weeks of professional football, we can look at some of the mistakes teams have made, whether it be communication errors, delay of games, false starts. We can use that to our advantage, to realize there are mistakes that are often made in the first week.”
Maybe — not definitely, but maybe — having a new offensive coordinator, Kevin Morris from Monmouth, to call plays, not showing what that looks like on film will offer a wrinkle Delaware has to face.
Having Morris arrive in the spring means the new stuff hasn’t been put in on the fly.
“I guess we are 1-0 in 2019. We beat a national team in China,’’ Priore said, referring to the team’s spring trip to Beijing and Shanghai. “That was really helpful to us.”
Morris is not exactly new to calling plays. He called them at Yale for a couple of seasons, and was at UMass before then.
Will Penn’s offense look drastically different to the outside world?
“Yes, I think it will,’’ Begnoche said. “The new offensive coordinator definitely has a different style. … I would describe it as very fast-paced, fast tempo. It’s very much play at full speed. If you make a mistake, do it at full speed.
"That’s one thing we’re very excited about. We think we’ll have a lot more big plays this year because of that.”
At this point, Begnoche said, everyone in the Ivy League is pretty even. But if you’re on the short side of that, you end up 3-4 in league play like Penn did in 2018, 6-4 overall. The Quakers had won the Ivy League in 2015 and ‘16, and was 4-3 in ‘17.
“I know in the past, like say 10 years ago, there would be two teams you could say at the beginning of the year would win,’’ Begnoche said. “This year, everyone’s very equal. We gained some experience last year of going through some tough losses.”
This time, the Quakers are picked fifth in the eight-team league. Interesting to be under the radar?
“I honestly love being the underdog,’’ Begnoche said. “I think our team has really taken on that underdog mentality. In terms of being in the weight room, we realize that we have to get better, faster and stronger every day. Having that chip on our shoulders really allows us to do that and pushes us.”