NEW HAVEN, Conn. —
That’s the only explanation for Penn football’s defensive play this season. A spark is absent from a defense that has perennially been ranked at the top of the Ivy League.
After all, how else could inexperienced quarterbacks have field days and manhandle the Quakers week after week?
Not every quarterback Penn has faced so far has been green, but the defense’s continued failures at making big stops is troubling, and even more so against those without much career playing time.
Penn once again had the opportunity to put to bed a non-starting quarterback when Yale’s Eric Williams went out with a separated shoulder in the first half of Penn’s 27-13 loss Saturday.
And once again, the sixth-ranked Ivy defense couldn’t take advantage. Derek Russell, not even listed as a quarterback but rather as a wide receiver, ran for 61 yards, threw for 94 and recorded touchdowns both in the air and on the ground. Russell said he takes the “majority” of his snaps at wide receiver. Heck, even Bulldogs third-string quarterback Logan Scott threw for a touchdown and went 8-for-11.
Williams’ injury was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to Yale, at least the way the Red and Blue have played this year.
First-year coach Tony Reno, formerly of Harvard, watched Penn’s defense unravel as the Crimson clinched the Ivy title last November. It’s no surprise he kept his new team calm under the uncertainty of a quarterback with limited snaps.
In a situation where Penn should have stepped up and dominated, it floundered. And this isn’t an unfamiliar scenario for the 2012 Quakers. Against Dartmouth, Villanova and Lafayette, inexperienced quarterbacks walked all over a defense that made rookies look like veterans.
Senior captain Brandon Copeland said it starts with making tackles and blamed himself for missing a few Saturday. But that’s not a personnel problem, that’s something that can be fixed.
The Quakers are missing firepower. No defensive player has shown consistent signs of Honey Badger-like energy, and that’s exactly what the group needs. Dan Wilk has shown promise, but it’s not enough. Penn needs someone to get to the quarterback and end drives.
Copeland is as good a leader as any, both on the field and off. But the defense needs something more. The four-year starter will take the blame for Penn’s missteps, but he’s not the only one at fault.
Last season, Erik Rask provided the spark. He was a constant pressure and had three sacks and two interceptions en route to an Ivy MVP finalist selection. He did it all: forced fumbles, tackled for losses, blocked kicks, defended passes. Though one player doesn’t change a team, one sure can make a difference.
Penn’s young defenders don’t have an Energizer Bunny to look up to and emulate, and opposing quarterbacks no longer fear the Penn defense.
Rask is replaceable, but no one’s replaced him yet. It’s up to this unit to figure out who will — and do it quickly.
Princeton granted the league reprieve this weekend when it stunned Harvard, but now the Tigers are the team to beat.
And when Penn comes to town in two weeks, first-year starting quarterback Connor Michelson won’t be going easy.
MEGAN SOISSON is a senior health and societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her e-mail address is soisson@theDP.com.