Penn coach Al Bagnoli talks defense

The Penn football team will go into its game at Columbia on Saturday leading the Ivy League in total defense and second in pass defense, but Quakers coach Al Bagnoli is looking for more.

``We’re getting there,” said Bagnoli, whose team is 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the Ancient Eight as a result of visiting Penn’s 22-20 victory over upset-minded Dartmouth on Oct. 1. ``We lost a lot of guys from last year from both sides of the ball, so a lot of young kids trying to get a little more cohesive. And we the weeks go by, they are starting to get it. They are starting to understand how you have to react to things, and the speed of the game. And we’re starting to get a little more technique-conscious. We’ve had great leadership from [linebacker] Erik Rask and [defensive lineman] Brandon Copeland.”

Penn, which hasn’t given up a touchdown on an opening drive in 27 outings dating back to 2008, has been burned for six plays of 35 yards or longer this season. In the Quakers 35-20 win at home against Fordham last week, the Rams hit for a 55-yard touchdown that gave them a 10-7 second-quarter lead.

``We’re down to only one big play a game,” Bagnoli said. ``In a perfect world, you want no big plays, and if you are going to give up the big play, make it a 25- or 30-yard run as opposed to a touchdown.  We’ve been guilty of giving up a 55-yard play that not only went 55 yards, but they scored a touchdown. We have to stop that stuff. We have to do a little bit better job on third down, which means we have to do as little bit better job on first down.”

Bagnoli, who lost 33 seniors from last year’s team that claimed Penn’s second straight Ivy League title, has had to p plugged in some players with little or no experience such as senior linebacker Jason Rasmussen, sophomore linebacker David Park, sophomore safety Sebastian Jaskowsi, and nose tackle Taylor Brown.

``We’re still a work in progress,” Bagnoli said. ``We’ve made some plays, obviously. We gotten better from week one to week five, and that’s really all you can ask for as ca coach. Collectively, we’re making strides. We’ll just continue to coach them, and hopefully, they’ll continue to get better. We have talented kids, so it’s not so much athletic issues. We’re just trying to get these kids seasoned.”

Bagnoli will welcome back defensive back Matt Hamscher and running back Brandon Colavita for the Columbia game after both sat out the contest against Fordham.

Hamscher was nursing a knee injury and Colavita was resting a problem shoulder.