Bagnoli faces Penn for first time since taking reins at Columbia
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(STATS) - Penn has dominated Columbia for 18 years, but that came with Al Bagnoli on the sidelines. This time, he'll be on the opposite side as the Lions try to end another ridiculous losing streak.
A week after halting the longest slide in the nation, Columbia will try to beat the Quakers for the first time since 1996 as Bagnoli faces his former team for the first time Saturday.
Bagnoli spent 23 years at Penn, winning nine Ivy League titles with three coming from 2009-12. He shockingly left the comforts of Philadelphia for the bright lights of New York after last season, an especially stunning move since he was staying in the same conference to take over downtrodden Columbia - which won its only league title in 1961 when Bagnoli was eight years old.
The Lions (1-3, 0-1) are showing signs of improvement under Bagnoli as they've been outscored by an average of 2.5 points this season, a drop from 28.6 last year.
They also "roared" for the first time in nearly three years last Saturday, ending a 24-game losing streak with a 26-3 victory over Wagner.
"It certainly wasn't a Picasso but I'm happy for the kids," Bagnoli said. "It's a huge win and it gets that 800-pound gorilla off the conversation. We'll start another streak of a different kind."
Columbia hasn't won back-to-back games in a single season since a three-game winning streak in 2010.
Doing that Saturday will require the Lions ending an 18-game slide to the Quakers (1-3, 0-1), the longest active losing streak against one opponent in an uninterrupted FCS series.
"We gotta be careful. This has a storyline and I don't want the storyline to overshadow the game," Bagnoli said. "If we're not careful that's potentially what's going to happen. It's really about the kids. We have another winnable game in front of us. It doesn't matter if it's Penn or if it's Dartmouth or it's Brown or Cornell."
While Bagnoli is trying to diminish the hype surrounding his first meeting with the Quakers, he'll be staring across the field at many familiar faces. That's especially true with Ray Priore, who replaced Bagnoli after 27 years as an assistant.
"I have all the admiration and respect for coach," Priore said. "He's helped me so much in helping my career grow and to get this opportunity. I wish him well."
Like his mentor, Priore is trying to downplay the focus on the coaches.
"It's not myself against coach, it's Penn versus Columbia," Priore insisted. "He's looking at Penn. I'm looking at Columbia. I've looked at Columbia for 29 years. He's looking at Penn for the first time."
The Quakers are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak after falling 48-45 to Fordham last weekend on a field goal with eight seconds left. However, they showed resilience in battling back from a 25-point, second-quarter deficit.
Priore, though, wasn't thrilled with Penn's five turnovers, one more than its total through the first three games.
"Our biggest opponent is ourselves," he said. "We play well we can achieve some great things."
Priore isn't naming a starting quarterback but did say Alek Torgersen is healthy after getting hurt in a 41-20 loss to Dartmouth on Oct. 3. Backup Andrew Lisa has completed 39 of 58 passes for 389 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his place.
"We're making sure they both are really prepared," Priore said.
Bagnoli has his own problems at quarterback as Columbia is one of three teams in the nation without a passing touchdown, joining Savannah State and Georgia Southern of the FBS. Skyler Mornhinweg, a Florida transfer and son of former Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg, has an Ivy League-low 100.7 passer rating as he's completed 57.9 percent of his throws for 664 yards with five interceptions.
With the aerial game sputtering at a league-worst 185.8 yards per game, the ground attack has tried to pick up the slack. The team's rushing total has improved with each week, including 154 yards last weekend, but Mornhinweg did much of that damage with a team-high 74 and a TD on 11 carries.
Columbia had 20 yards on 17 rushes in last year's 31-7 loss at Penn.
Harvard (4-0) jumped six places in the latest STATS FCS Poll to No. 18 after extending the subdivision's longest active winning streak to 18 games with last weekend's 40-3 demolition of Cornell. That came a week after the Crimson pounded Georgetown 45-0.
Harvard's 44.8 points per game rank third in the FCS, and its offensive balance is striking. The team has scored 12 touchdowns rushing and 10 through the air, and has totaled between 210-250 yards both rushing and passing in each of the past three games.
The Crimson are likely to continue their dominance and run their non-conference winning streak to 14 games against Lafayette (1-5) of the Patriot League. They've won 12 of the past 13 matchups with the Leopards, including six straight in Easton by an average of 18.6 points.
Updated October 16, 2015