PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After a couple of weeks of watching just about everyone else get their seasons underway, the University of Pennsylvania football team will kickoff its campaign on Saturday at Franklin Field entertaining Lehigh.
The Quakers started last year 1-3, but they then surged to win their final six games of the season to finish 7-3. Their 6-1 record in Ivy league action earned them a share of the Ancient 8 crown in Ray Priore’s first season as head coach.
The Quakers have a lot of talent back this season. That conversation starts with senior quarterback Alek Torgersen. The California native threw for 1,996 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015 with just three interceptions.
“It’s a combination, not only having Alek, which is great, but now we’re in a year of a second year offense, second year defense,” Priore tells KYW Newsradio. “Everybody knows each other. We know what our strengths and our weaknesses are and that’s only accelerated the performance of all of our players.”
Listen to the entire interview with Penn head coach Ray Priore
Priore says he got a good answer to his biggest question coming into preseason camp.
“I think the biggest question was really hunger and focus,” Priore says. “I think the hardest thing in sports is to obviously play well one year and then to repeat the following year and keeping that edge up, and I think our kids have done a nice job.”
The Ivy League always starts its football season later than everyone else, meaning that while Saturday’s game will be the opener for the Quakers, it will be game three for Lehigh, and Priore says that is a big hurdle to overcome.
“Because really there is no margin of error,” Priore says. “Your first time on the field, the speed of the game and all those little things, those coaching cliches, but they are real. Those crucial operational things that you’re dealing with for working the clock. Fortunately for us, we do a lot of these game simulations. We’re at home this year, a little bit more advantage going in and I think we’re probably as fresh and as healthy as we can be at this point.”
Lehigh is 0-2, but they are probably a couple of plays away from being 2-0. Their losses to Monmouth (23-21) and Villanova (26-21) have come by a total of seven points.
“(Lehigh head coach) Andy Coen’s a good friend of mine,” Priore says. “I spoke to Andy after both games and they’re just missing by a hair. They are a talented team. Quarterback coming back, really, really good skill on offense and defense they play hard, run to the ball.”
Coen and Priore spent several years working together on Al Bagnoli’s staff when he was the head coach of the Quakers. Coen was the offensive coordinator and Priore the defensive coordinator.
Last year these two teams met at Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks taking a 42-21 decision.
Saturday’s game at Franklin Field kicks off at 5:00 p.m.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.