Junior wide receiver Jarrod Howard stands with teammates during a practice on Thursday, Sept. 10th, 2015 in Rauch Fieldhouse. During the practice, the players rotated with those on the sidelines watching their teammates run plays. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W photo)

Lehigh football to host UPenn for home opener

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After the Mountain Hawks were shellacked 55-17 at the hands of James Madison University last Saturday, all they could do was learn from the tape and bury it until next season.

After splitting its first two games of the season, both on the road, the football team returns to Goodman Stadium to host the University of Pennsylvania. The Quakers will open their season in Bethlehem with a new regime on the sidelines.

After finishing 2-8 last season, Penn inflicted a complete overhaul on its football coaching staff, bringing in new coordinators and coaches to help return the Quakers to the top of the Ivy League. For junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky, who has never faced the Penn defense, the unknown from the lack of game film could be his offense’s biggest challenge in the days leading up to kickoff.

“Rumor has it they’re going to change their defense all together, or they might be keeping it,” Shafnisky said. “With them not playing a game yet either, we’re going to go off some of the stuff they did last year and that’s what we’re going to work on for now.”

If there was one lone bright spot from last week’s blowout, it was the emergence of the Hawks receivers. Senior wide receiver Derek Knott, who has been plagued by injuries since arriving at Lehigh in the fall of 2012, is finally healthy and carving up defenses. Hauling in 13 passes for 120 yards in his first two games, Knott is ready for the test of Penn’s unpredictable defense.

“We’re not trying to do anything different, but we’re just trying to do what we do best,” Knott said. “If we can get lined up quicker and minimize our little mistakes and minimize our turnovers, we’re going to be fine.”

Knott will be joined by junior wide receiver Trevor Socarras as another Shafnisky weapon who is in the midst of becoming an impact player. Only appearing in one game each of his first two seasons in brown and white, the Franklin Township, New Jersey, native has waited his turn.

“Going into camp I was just focused on really knowing the playbook really well,” Socarras said. “Our concept for the slot is kind of difficult, it takes time to learn.”

Socarras learned quickly, and he believes his particular skill set and style of route running fits in well with Shafnisky’s offense. This season, he has 13 catches for 130 yards.

“I play in the slot, so I’m not the big deep threat type guy like Troy (Pelletier) or Gatlin (Casey),” Socarras said. “I’m more the shorter routes for Shafnisky. On offense obviously he’s a mobile quarterback, so he can look to me a lot.”

For the Quakers, their offense will be lead by junior quarterback Alek Torgersen coming into his third consecutive season as Penn’s starter. Last season, the Huntington Beach, California, native led the Ivy League with 26 completions per game – also good enough for the third-highest marks across the FCS.

Kickoff for home-state bragging rights will be at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium.

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