Eye Openers Leading Into Ivy Opener
The Ivy League schedule gets under way once again with the Penn Quakers invading Memorial Field one year after suffering their only conference defeat at the hands of Dartmouth. While the two teams were pegged to finish second and third, respectively, in the preseason poll, the fortunes of the programs have gone in opposite directions.
Despite graduating 17 starters from last year’s Big Green squad that tied for a share of the title with Penn and Harvard, Dartmouth has begun 2016 with two victories, the first coming against a nationally ranked New Hampshire squad the Green had not beaten in 40 years. Penn, on the other hand, has suffered a pair of defeats against strong Patriot League schools by a combined five touchdowns.
Dartmouth cannot afford to simply look at the records of the teams and think the winning and losing trends will continue. Just four years ago these two teams entered this contest with the exact same records, only to have Penn jump out to a 20-0 halftime lead and hold off the Big Green, 28-21.
This past weekend, a quick 7-0 deficit at Holy Cross did not faze Dartmouth one bit as it scored 28 straight points en route to a 35-10 triumph. Each of the five Big Green touchdowns were scored by a different player, the first by Ivy League Rookie of the Week Hunter Hagdorn on a 10-yard end around.
The running back-by-committee approach worked well once again, led by sophomore Miles Smith whose first career touch turned into a 35-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. Smith led the Green with 71 yards on eight carries as Dartmouth topped 200 yards (208) on the ground for a second straight week.
Junior QB Jack Heneghan was effective and efficient in his second start, completing 18-of-29 passes for 240 yards and a TD without an interception. Dartmouth eliminated turnovers completely in this game after coughing the ball up four times in the win over UNH in the opener.
Heneghan moved the ball around quite a bit, connecting with 10 different receivers on the afternoon (an 11th got in on the action on the last drive with Bruce Dixon IV behind center). Tailback Rashaad Cooper had a team-high four catches while Hagdorn and senior Houston Brown — the team’s leading receiver thus far — had three apiece.
The defense held Holy Cross in check after the opening drive, yielding a total of 285 yards to a team that was averaging over 500. Senior LB Folarin Orimolade led the charge with eight tackles, including career highs of four tackles for a loss and two sacks, earning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career.
Making some of the biggest plays was CB Darius George. The senior forced a fumble that set up Smith’s go-ahead TD, then recovered a fumbled snap on a punt in the end zone for a touchdown of his own and a 21-7 lead at the half.
The strong defensive play was encouraging as the Big Green were without both starting safeties who were out with injuries. But sophomore Bun Straton took to his starting role with aplomb, picking off a pair of passes in the fourth quarter to quell any thoughts of some late-game magic by the Crusaders.
Scouting the Quakers
The Quakers had a 28-21 lead against Lehigh in the season opener only to have the Mountain Hawks score 28 unanswered points to send Penn to a 49-28 defeat. Last week, Fordham topped 200 yards on the ground and through the air to knock off the Quakers, 31-17.
Quarterback Alek Torgersen, an All-Ivy Second Team selection last year, is another dual threat that the Dartmouth defense will work hard to contain. Not only has he completed 55 percent of his passes for 347 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the senior has also run for 117 yards and three more scores. Fordham did keep him in check, however, limiting him to 158 total yards while sacking him five times.
Out of the backfield, the Quakers feature Tre Solomon, averaging over six yards a carry with a team-high 150 rushing yards. He is also an adept receiver, leading Penn with 13 catches for 99 yards, and has even thrown a six-yard touchdown pass on his only attempt (to Torgersen no less).
Wide receiver Justin Watson, a preseason All-American, is a favorite target of Torgersen’s, hauling in 11 passes for 166 yards and a pair of scores thus far. After Solomon and Watson, the rest of the team has managed just 10 receptions.
The defense has struggled a bit, ranking among the bottom 25 teams in the FCS in pass defense, total defense and points allowed. The top three tacklers on the team are all linebackers, led by Colton Moskal with 22 stops. A fourth linebacker, Ephraim Lee, has the lone Quaker sack on the season, and cornerback Mason Williams has proven to be a solid cover man with both Penn picks.
Special teams have been highlighted by the punting of Hunter Kelley, who is merely a tenth of a punt shy of qualifying for the FCS lead with an astonishing 51.4-yard average. Kick returns may be a little more infrequent as this game will feature kickoffs from the 40-yard line, per the new experimental concussion-prevention rule in Ivy League games.
Ray Priore had the unenviable task last year of replacing the legendary Al Bagnoli, who merely set the Ivy League record as its winningest football coach as Penn’s head coach. Priore was up to the challenge, however, earning the Ivy League Coach of the Year award as he led the Quakers to a share of the conference crown with a 6-1 record and a 7-3 mark overall. This is his 30th season on the Penn staff, helping secure 10 Ivy titles in 28 seasons as an assistant, including his last 16 as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
Last Year at Penn
Dartmouth snapped an eight-game slide at Franklin Field by jumping out to a 27-0 lead in the first half before cruising to a 41-20 triumph over the Quakers. Dalyn Williams was the story of the game, setting a school record by completing 92 percent of his passes (23-of-25) for 336 yards and four touchdowns while running for the other two Big Green scores. His namesake, Victor Williams, was the recipient of 12 of those passes, totaling 213 yards and two TDs. The Dartmouth defense limited Penn to 263 yards, barely half of what the Green posted (506), while Quaker QB Alek Torgersen managed just 7-of-10 passing for 29 yards and 22 yards on the ground before departing the game after the half.
Blackout at Memorial Field
No, no need to worry about the lighting at Memorial Field for Friday night’s game. Instead, Dartmouth fans are encouraged to mimic the team’s black uniforms for the nationally televised game on NBC Sports Network by wearing black in the stands.
There was a time when a Dartmouth football appearance on television was a bad omen. Starting late in the 1999 season through early in the 2013 campaign, the Big Green played in a televised game 32 times, going a woeful 4-28. But since a 20-13 homecoming victory over Yale in 2013, Dartmouth has gone 9-2 when on TV. When on NBC Sports Network, the Green are 3-3. A complete listing of televised games is on page six of these notes.
Two Wins in the Books
For the second straight year — and fifth time in 17 seasons with Buddy Teevens at the helm — the Big Green have won their first two games entering Ivy League play. Last year Dartmouth went on to win its first six games and earned a share of the conference crown; can they repeat the feat?
Holy Cross to Bear
With the 35-10 victory over Holy Cross on Sept. 24, Dartmouth has beaten the Crusaders in consecutive meetings for the first time since 2002-03. The Big Green also took the lead in the all-time series, 38-37-4. And the 25-point margin of victory was the largest for Dartmouth in the series since a 35-6 triumph in 1997, also in Worcester.
Ivy Players of the Week
Dartmouth players took home half of the weekly awards after the 35-10 win at Holy Cross with LB earning Defensive Player of the Week and WR claiming the Rookie of the Week. Orimolade set career highs with two sacks and four tackles for a loss among his team-high eight stops while helping the Big Green hold a Crusader offense averaging over 500 yards to just 285. Hagdorn merely caught three passes for 62 yards, ran three times for 15 more with Dartmouth’s first TD and returned a kick 16 yards.
Great First Touch
Sophomore RB finally got his hands on the football in a game for the first time in his career at Holy Cross, and he made the most of the opportunity. After blowing through one tackler at the line of scrimmage, he sprinted 35 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Smith finished the game with 71 rushing yards on just eight carries.
Fumbles By George!
Dartmouth was seventh among FCS schools last year with 14 fumbles recovered, and has continued that trend this year with two in each of the first two games. At Holy Cross, senior CB had a hand in both fumbles, forcing the first and recovering the second in the end zone for a touchdown. Dartmouth finished 2015 second in the FCS in turnover margin; this year the Green are currently 10th.
Eight Players, Eight Touchdowns
Through two games this season, Dartmouth has scored eight touchdowns, each of which has been scored by a different player — four wide receivers (Emory Thompson, Charles Mack, and ), two running backs (Ryder Stone and ), one tight end (Cameron Skaff) and one cornerback ( ).
200 By Air, 200 By Ground
In each of the first two games, Dartmouth amassed at least 200 yards both on the ground and through the air, matching the total number of games from the past two seasons combined. The 2013 squad, however, accomplished the feat on five occasions, including its first three contests.
A Bun for Interceptions
If you didn’t know by now, that word is pronounced “boon.” As in safety , who made his first start against Holy Cross. All the sophomore did was intercept two Crusader passes in the fourth quarter to squelch any hope for Holy Cross to make a big comeback. He is the first player with two picks in a game since Vernon Harris turned the trick against Brown last Nov. 14. So really, not that long ago.
With two sacks at Holy Cross, senior jumped two spots on the Dartmouth career charts into fifth place with 16.5 during his four seasons, passing Cliff McDonald ’92 and former NFL linebacker Zack Walz ’98. He needs four more to move ahead of Ryan Conger ’05 for fourth on the list, and is currently nine shy of the all-time record of 25.0 set by Anthony Gargiulo ’06.