If the Quakers auditioned for America’s Got Talent, they’d be kicked off in a heartbeat.
It’s not that this isn’t a talented bunch. On Saturday, the Penn football team showed what it could do and then some, clinching at least a share of the Ancient Eight crown with a victory over a favored Crimson squad.
Really, though, the Red and Blue just lack style.
Early in the season, this wasn’t only an unstylish team. The brand of football those Quakers played was nearly unwatchable, culminating in the debacle that was the Yale loss.
“That was my fault,” coach Al Bagnoli admitted following Penn’s victory over Harvard. “We kind of lost our way … we had some injuries … and we just didn’t shift back to it once our receivers got hurt.”
Yet, even when they had gotten completely away from the style of play upon which this team was built, the Quakers still succeeded, dropping only one Ivy contest.
Sure, even the recent games have been close, with the victory over Brown hanging on Connor Loftus’ boot, and the Princeton game coming down to clutch defensive plays. But they still won.
That’s the thing about this team. Running the ball up the gut will look ugly even on a gain of five, and Billy Ragone rolling out of the pocket and sprinting to the sideline for a pickup of eight won’t get anyone’s heart beating.
That’s why it’s so tempting to pick at them. On ESPN’s scoreline, you see Oregon putting up 70, and the next day, you watch Aaron Rodgers throw so often that you can almost picture Brett Favre drooling as he watches.
This year, even in the Ivy League — a league not known for explosive offenses — Harvard was destroying teams. The Crimson were the stylish ones, the guys that were fun to watch.
Saturday’s matchup was ultimately style versus grit; flash versus roughing it out.
Coming into the game, Harvard had allowed just under 44 yards per game on the ground. Common sense was that, for the Quakers to win, they’d need to attack through the air.
“You have to look at statistics,” Bagnoli explained, “But they don’t tell you everything.”
Those 44 yards per game turned out to be just as much about the Crimson’s explosive offense as it did their defense.
Penn’s defense kept the Quakers in the game, and Bagnoli could keep the ball on the ground.
Lyle Marsh ran for over 100 yards, and Ragone, had he not gotten injured, almost definitely would have as well.
Except for one breakout run by Marsh though, it looked like just another day at the office for the Quakers. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
The great thing about that smashmouth style is that, when a big play does happen, it stands out that much more.
Fans will never forget captain Brandon Copeland, with the game so close at hand, throwing down Colton Chapple for the safety to seal the deal, giving the Quakers the chance to give their coach a Gatorade bath.
This Ivy League title may have been Bagnoli’s best coaching job yet. Though the team lost its identity over the course of the season, the pieces came together at just the right time.
“That team, they don’t care about style points,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They just win.”
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.