A “revolving door” is not how anyone wants to describe the frequency of personnel changes, but that is the best term to describe the 2013 Penn sprint football squad through two games in this young season.
Penn has already seen major changes at quarterback, wide receiver and on the defensive line for a laundry list of reasons, ranging from significant injury (defensive lineman Mack Pierson and wide receiver Andrew Donald), to personal issues (wide receiver Nick Longtin has left the team), to good old-fashioned ineffectiveness (exit Keith Braccia under center, enter Mike McCurdy).
Some of these changes were met with instant criticism and worry heading into the 2013 campaign, which got off to a rocky start in a 35-12 loss at West Point that seemed to confirm fans’ worst fears. But last Friday’s comeback thrashing of Mansfield has made it clear that coach Bill Wagner and his staff have found a group of men that is not only talented but also resilient.
The beginning of Friday night’s game against the Mounties made it profoundly clear that more changes were necessary. In the first half, the Quakers could not move the ball on Mansfield’s defense as dropped passes and missed opportunities made a 14-7 halftime deficit seem like 35-7.
All of that changed when Mike McCurdy stepped onto the field. The Red and Blue’s freshman sensation was outstanding in the second half, completing 12 of 13 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns to turn that 14-7 deficit into a 42-14 final score in favor of the Quakers.
In the process, he found a new favorite target in senior receiver Michael Bass, who caught three passes for 127 yards, all for touchdowns.
This receiving corps has been riddled with cohesion issues, but Quakers fans can finally exhale now that Bass, senior Freddy Ordonez and sophomore Jack Epstein have figured out their chemistry. In all likelihood, junior quarterback Keith Braccia will join these receivers outside the hashmarks in the coming weeks. This receiver corps has finally found some stability and will re-establish Penn’s potency as an explosive offense.
However, as has been said before, the biggest question mark for the Quakers still centers on defense, specifically, on how the squad will react to the issue of big play threats that opposing offenses will bring in the coming weeks.
Will the Red and Blue allow themselves to be gashed, slashed and mashed in all levels of their defense? The answer is no.
In recent weeks, the Quakers have seen leaders emerge in the absence of Pierson, their sophomore “wrecking ball.” Freshman linebacker Robert Diorio and, most recently, sophomore defensive back Stu Helgeson have vaulted themselves into the spotlight.
Helgeson and Diorio have not only done their jobs in coverage and run stopping, but they’ve also made plays in the backfield, created turnovers and physically outmanned their opponents. As leaders, they are now looked to as rocks of consistency, a quality the defense needs as it heads into the heart of its schedule.
The Red and Blue also need someone to step up on special teams. A true returner has yet to show his face this season. Junior running back Mike Beamish did have a 17-yard kickoff return on Friday, but other than that, the special teams seemed to lay flat against the Mounties on Friday. A solid, consistent returner is needed to put McCurdy and company in better positions.
The personnel changes have been a tough transition, and this certainly isn’t the end of growing pains for the Quakers. But next week’s matchup against an 0-2 Cornell squad that barely bested Penn in six overtimes last year will give these new groups a chance to gel in a hostile territory.
Penn’s sprint football squad has been held back and locked up by unforeseen circumstances, but in light of recent production and confidence, they may have just found the key to success.
JIMMY LENGYEL is a College sophomore from Pensacola, Fla., and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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