Now that the Quakers have had a couple of days to celebrate their first Ivy win of the year, it’s time to finally address the elephant in the locker room.
Penn’s secondary needs to step up. Big time.
After the game Saturday, Dartmouth quarterback Alex Park claimed his team lost the game more than Penn won it.
But in reality, it was poor play by the Quakers’ secondary that kept the Big Green in the game until the end.
In the first quarter, sacks by Dan Wilk and Brandon Copeland put an end to Dartmouth’s only drive of the frame, in which Park did not attempt a single pass.
Dartmouth’s first series of the second quarter ended when wide-open receiver Michael Reilly dropped an easy catch on fourth down.
From that moment until the game clock reached zero, though, Penn’s passing defense was overmatched.
Reilly didn’t take long to make up for his mistake. On the next drive, wide open once again, he made his first catch of the day and streaked down the sidelines for 45 yards.
In the third quarter, Reilly grabbed an impressive 31-yard touchdown pass on fourth down.
Overall, Reilly had seven receptions for 115 yards — Dartmouth’s first 100-yard game from a receiver since he accomplished the feat against Yale in October 2010.
That Penn allowed Park and Reilly to pair up for over 100 yards signifies an unacceptable performance against a subpar passing team.
Against Butler — which Dartmouth beat, 35-7 — and Holy Cross — which lost to Harvard, 52-3 — the Big Green averaged 174 passing yards per game.
But Saturday against the Red and Blue, by comparison, Park lit up Penn’s defensive backs, going 20-of-29 for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the second straight week a first-year starting quarterback suddenly erupted while playing against the Quakers’ secondary.
Even when it counted most, with the Green down, 28-14, Park surgically moved his squad down the field, completing 5-of-7 passes for 62 yards, culminating in a 15-yard touchdown to Ryan McManus.
In a game in which Penn dominated the first half, the secondary almost blew the game for the Quakers in the second. And everyone knows it.
Penn’s pass rush, albeit imperfect, had its first four sacks of the season.
One might suggest that down 20-0 at halftime, Dartmouth had no other choice but to air it out. In reality, they still ran the ball — and effectively — 14 times for 67 yards in the second half.
There are teams in the Ancient Eight that are far superior to Dartmouth throwing the ball — Cornell instantly comes to mind. Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews set the Ivy record with 548 yards against Penn last year.
If the Quakers expect to beat those teams, the back-end of the defense will have to turn things around quickly.
Cornerback Dan Wilk, who led the team with eight tackles against the Big Green, is one of this year’s few bright spots in the back four. Maybe he can set an example for his teammates moving forward.
Furthermore, it will be up to defensive coordinator Ray Priore and the rest of his staff to come up with solutions to mask the team’s shortcomings.
This weekend’s non-conference tilt against William & Mary is the perfect opportunity for the team to experiment.
And who knows, maybe it will end up working. Because at this point, any change is better than no change.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a sophomore international studies and business major from Paris, France. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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