Tony | Penn football lost, but its defense won respect
October 12, 2013, 7:50 pm·
Ellen Frierson | DP
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — William & Mary’s offense can be a scary proposition for opposing defenses of all competition levels.
The Tribe kicked off 2013 by scaring the living daylights out
of West Virginia in Morgantown, building a 17-7 halftime lead and
letting William & Mary junior wide receiver Tre McBride punish
the Mountaineers for 108 yards receiving on just three catches.
William & Mary was shut out in the second half, but the offensive
firepower that McBride and senior quarterback Michael Graham showed for two quarters against an FBS school on the road was nothing to sneeze at.
Neither were the Tribe’s 245 rushing yards in a 34-6 rout of Lafayette again on the road on Sept. 14. It was then that the Tribe proved it could impose its offensive will via ground or air, wiping out a team which Penn struggled keeping down at Franklin Field only a week later.
And last week, the Tribe possessed the ball for 31:06 and converted six of 13 third downs at Villanova, nearly coming up with enough intangibles to trump a team that had demolished the
Quakers, 35-6, a week earlier.
The common opponents told a troubling tale.
But Saturday, the Quakers’ defense defied paper-based expectations, showing enough consistent pressure and grit on a soggy Zable Stadium field to suggest that they could easily be
champions both on paper and in reality come late November.
On an afternoon when Penn’s offense gained just 237 total yards and converted only two of 16 third-down conversions, the defense had to win this game on its own. It came up short, but the highlights were encouraging as can be with the rest of the Ivy slate now on tap.
And on tap at every call Saturday was sophomore defensive end Austin Taps, who registered two sacks in the first quarter when Penn’s offense was still asleep and the Quakers needed those sacks most. Joining Taps in hot pursuit was senior Sam Chwarzynski,
whose strip-sack 3:40 into the fourth quarter set up a subsequent six-play, 26-yard Quakers touchdown drive that cut their deficit to 21-14.
Chwarzynski and company had turned the washout into a comeback.
All the while, the Quakers’ defense tried to make sure that
size didn’t matter. The Tribe’s five starting offensive linemen average 296 pounds between them. Penn’s defensive linemen
average just 236. But down 60 pounds and multiple touchdowns, Penn’s defensive front kept the pressure coming.
“We have this saying on defense — we ‘chop wood.’ Keep working, don’t play with an ‘S’ on your chest, don’t play like Superman, stick to your gaps,” Taps said. “The defense did that great today, it worked out on some plays.
“I think the main thing to take away from this game is that we can play with this team, they have a huge offensive line. The main thing to take away is that we’ve got to come out every game ready to play.”
The wood-choppers gave their teammates on the other side of the ball every opportunity to challenge William & Mary.
Chwarzynski’s forced fumble aside, senior safety Sebastian Jaskowski also turned the Tribe away midway through the third quarter with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in Penn’s own red zone. Penn’s offense failed to capitalize on its newfound momentum, but the Quakers’ defensive muscle showed through all the same.
“On early downs, we really wanted to stop the run and get them into passing situations on third down,” Jaskowski said.
“So on first and second down, the coaches put me in the right position along with other players to stop the run, and then getting me in the passing down, and after that we could get after them, blitz a few people, get after the quarterback.”
“I was encouraged by an awful lot of what I saw in terms of the kids’ effort,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “We played an awful lot of players, an awful lot of young guys, we had two or three guys home, banged up, including both corners and our starting outside linebacker. We can take a lot out of this.”
And for once that’s not coachspeak, because the Quakers’
defense thrived Saturday when surviving could have sufficed. If you can chop wood against William & Mary, you can chop wood in Ivy season too.
MIKE TONY is a senior history and English major from Uniontown, Pa., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at tony@theDP.com.