McGinnis | Penn football’s Ivy hopes lie with the defense
The Quakers' senior secondary dominate Columbia allowing Penn to escape with ugly victory
October 21, 2013, 9:13 pm·
Carolyn Lim | DP
As the saying goes, defense wins championships.
Against Columbia, in a game where the offense seemed unable to finish its drives, Penn’s defense showed that it has the potential to carry the team to great heights.
Four first downs and 118 yards of total offense sound like the stats one might expect a defense to allow over a single quarter, not over an entire game as Penn did Saturday at Columbia.
The Lions could not to convert a single third down against the Quakers during the game and were held to just nine yards during the entire second quarter.
Nine of Columbia’s 16 drives ended in three-and-outs, and the Lions only managed more than 12 yards on a drive once. Not a single one of their drives consisted of more than five plays.
The list goes on and on, but Penn’s defensive dominance this weekend was very clear.
While Columbia doesn’t have the caliber of offense that the Quakers will need to defeat to claim their second-consecutive Ivy League title, the Lions were ineffective even by their own low standards.
The Lions entered the game with the worst offense in the FCS, producing only 210.8 yards per game, despite having the third-ranked rusher in the Ivy League — senior running back Marcorus Garrett.
“We just really had emphasized staying in the gap, controlling your gap, don’t overrun things, don’t let him push you by the hole,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “We have the greatest respect for [Garrett], he’s one of the premiere running backs in this league.”
Garrett entered this weekend’s contest averaging 103.0 yards per game. The Red and Blue held him to 46 yards. Focusing their game plan on stopping the run and putting pressure on Columbia’s freshman quarterback Kelly Hilinski.
Hilinski, making his first career start, appeared to be up to the challenge against the Quakers early in the first quarter. His huge throw on a flea-flicker gave Columbia a 46-yard gain and allowed them to set up a Garrett touchdown run as the Lions leapt to an early 7-0 lead.
However, Penn’s secondary, led by seniors Evan Jackson, Dan Wilk and Sebastian Jaskowski, keyed in on the inexperienced Hilinski and held him to 5-for-17 for 22 yards and an interception for the remainder of the game.
With this performance, Penn’s defense appears to be shaping into mid-season form and continues to look like the steady force that the Red and Blue can rely on.
Consistent performance begins with the mentality for this Quakers defense.
“We just had the mindset all game to just do our jobs and keep doing what we do,” Jackson said. “Just keep chopping wood, that’s our mindset right now. We just did our jobs and kept the mentality and kept the motors going.”
Consistent defensive play should not come as a surprise to those paying attention to Penn football this season and in past seasons.
“Penn’s the same every week, every year,” Columbia coach Pete Mangurian said. “I left the league in 2000, I came back in 2012 and they’re the same team. They just change the uniform and it’s the same guy on the sideline and they have the same attitude.”
However, this year the Quakers are looking for the same result with a different formula. The offense is not quite as effective as it has been in past years, with a passing game hampered by inconsistent play and key injuries.
Penn will still need some production from its offense, which has been effective for stretches this season, but will be looking to its stellar defense to carry a larger load.
As the Quakers attempt to retain the Ivy League crown, the Red and Blue defense, led by a core of experienced seniors, will be the crux of the title defense.
HOLDEN MCGINNIS is an Engineering freshman from Philadelphia, Pa., and he is a staff writer for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.