The football team (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) will try to get one in the win column at Dartmouth (2-3, 1-1 Ivy) on Saturday.
The game will mark the first road start for first-year quarterback Kelly Hilinski. The rookie has shown some of his ability so far this season—especially on a 46-yard pass to fellow first-year Cameron Dunn last week—but head coach Pete Mangurian would like to see Hilinski become more consistent and do the little things better.
“I think the big-ticket items he’s got a pretty good handle on,” Mangurian said on Thursday. “I want to see him get a little better handle on not only the major execution of the play, but the little things that go into each play—the kind of throw it is, where he needs to put it, all those kinds of things that make you grow as a quarterback.”
The Light Blue needs Hilinski to make progress in order to balance the offense. Though senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett is fourth in the league in rushing with 458 yards, both Princeton and Penn keyed in on him and effectively shut down the Lions’ offense.
Still, Garrett said he’s seen a huge improvement from Hilinski since training camp, especially with the quarterback’s confidence.
“That’s how you know you’re comfortable with a quarterback—when his cadence and how he talks in the huddle just sounds right,” Garrett said. “He’s still got a long way to go, but he’s a kid who’s very hungry, and he’s going to be a great player here. I believe that.”
Mangurian said the Lions have to pass the ball better to open up holes in the running game, but added that they’ll also have to make some adjustments to try and get more yards on the ground.
“We’ve got a few different things in the running game, but obviously we’re not going to make wholesale changes,” Mangurian said. “There’s stuff that we have in our system that we think we’re running better than others, and we’re going to focus on those things.”
And they’ll have to stay focused against the Big Green defense. Dartmouth ranks fourth in the league in overall defense, surrendering a little more than 400 yards of total offense per game.
“They mix it up enough to make you have to prepare for things, but they clearly have an identity,” Mangurian said. “What they really rely on is being big and strong and sound and physical. And we’ve got to match that up front offensively or else they’ll push us around. We can’t let that happen.”
On offense, the Big Green employs a balanced air-and-ground attack led by quarterback Dalyn Williams and running back Dominick Pierre. Williams ranks third in the league in passing, averaging 217 yards per game, but is also sixth in the league in rushing with 342 yards. Pierre leads the league in rushing with 610 yards.
With that offensive attack, Mangurian said many of the issues Penn caused at Homecoming could be challenges against Dartmouth as well.
“Last week, we really had problems on the perimeter. We let people get outside of us, and we didn’t control the quarterback,” Mangurian said. “If we don’t control the perimeter running game, and we don’t keep this quarterback in the pocket, then we’re going to have a problem.”
Though the team is still winless, Garrett said that he and the captains are working to keep confidence up—especially for the younger players.
“We try to make sure the younger guys understand that this isn’t the way it’s going to be forever,” Garrett said. “If you stick with it, keep pushing, we’re going to get through the storm and good things are going to happen.”
“I continue to be impressed with how resilient our kids are and how much they’re working,” Mangurian said. “I think when you watch them, and you’re down there, and you see them every day, it’s certainly not for lack of effort.”
As the Lions head north in search of their first win of 2013—and first road victory since 2009—Mangurian has been encouraged by the team’s work on the practice field this week.
“We’re starting to develop some consistency—not nearly as good as I’d like to, but I think we’re getting there,” Mangurian said. “And I think when we start stringing good practices together, we’ll start stringing good plays together and have a chance to win games.”
The players are ready to realize that goal.
“We’ve got Dartmouth and we’re excited,” Garrett said. “We’re going up there expecting to win, so we’re ready to go.”
Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday in Hanover, N.H.