Dartmouth to face Penn
This time last year the Dartmouth football team was talking of an undefeated season and a fourth consecutive Ivy League championship -- all of that ended by a season-opening 10-6 loss to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn.
Now the tables are turned, or as Coach John Lyons said, "the shoe is on the other foot."
This year, Penn struts into Hanover with a 13-game winning streak, talking about another undefeated season and another championship ring, while the Big Green are still searching for their identity in the post-Jay Fiedler '94 era.
Could the situation be set for a reversal of last year, where the Big Green upset the mighty Quakers and go on to the Ivy League championship?
When asked if he thinks Dartmouth can beat Penn, Lyons said, "Of course I do. We can beat anyone on our schedule."
The Big Green should know if they will be Ivy League contenders or pretenders after the first half of Saturday's game. If they can hang in against the probable-best team in the league, they still can be among the Ivy elite. But if they falter and get swamped by the Quakers they might be in for a long season.
Dartmouth vs. Penn has been a vital game in recent memory -- the winning team has won or tied for the Ivy League championship seven times in the last 10 years.
The forecast is calling for a chilly, rainy day at Memorial Field -- weather that could help the Big Green who have a solid ground game but questionable aerial attack.
"Well, all I know is that we're playing them on grass, and if it's wet grass, it's fine with me," Lyons said with a laugh.
The game will be a big test for Dartmouth signal-caller Ren Riley '96. Riley, who is making his home debut, had fairly effective numbers last week -- 16 for 26 for 191 yards and an interception -- but was inconsistent.
"A lot of people are making unfair comparisons of Ren to Jay," Lyons said. "He's not Jay Fiedler. We want him to be as good as he can be ... He did very well in his first [game]. With more experience and more confidence he's just going to get better and better."
Dartmouth suffered a disappointing 20-16 loss to Colgate University last week -- a game they should have won but didn't because of a few big lapses in the secondary and a failure to punch the ball into the end zone from short yardage.
While the Big Green is hunting for the upset, the Quakers view Hanover as little more than a rest stop on their road to another championship.
"Probably from our standpoint there is a little less pressure than there was last year," Lyons said.
Lyons said the team is hungry to play the Quakers and show them that the Ivy League is not just Penn and seven other teams.
"I think it's going to be a real good football game," he said. The players "remember how last year went, when they deprived us of winning our fourth straight championship," he said.
After an undefeated season where the Quakers beat their opponents by an average of more than 17 points a game, Penn is currently ranked 19th in NCAA division I-AA, and the overwhelming favorite to again decimate the Ivy League.
To pull off the upset, the Big Green defense is going to have to come up big. The Penn offensive is loaded with two large bullets -- senior running back Terrance Stokes and junior wide receiver Miles Macik.
Stokes was first-team All Ivy last year, as he rushed for 1,211 yards and six touchdowns. Macik was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and also a second-team All-American. He caught 72 passes for 840 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Senior co-captains Josh Bloom '95 and Hunter Buckner '94 will lead the linebacking corps in trying to contain Stokes. Last week -- led by Bloom's 12 tackles and one sack -- the Big Green held a potent Colgate running attack to 66 yards on 33 carries.
The Dartmouth offense counters with Pete Oberle '96. Oberle's absence due to an injury in last year's loss to Penn proved devastating as the Big Green only managed 34 yards on the ground.
Oberle still had a fine rookie season -- rushing for 660 yards and seven touchdowns. Last week against Colgate, Oberle ran for 142 yards and the Big Green's sole touchdown.
But Oberle and the rest of the Big Green will not find easy yardage against the stingy Quakers, who allowed an Ivy-best 284.1 yards a game last year. Penn returns two first team and two second team All-Ivy defenders.