Wenik | Penn football has plenty of work left to do
October 26, 2013, 4:58 pm·
It wasn’t pretty at first, and it certainly wasn’t pretty at the end, but for 40 minutes, Penn looked like it had the best football team in the Ivy League.
And against a sloppy Yale squad that couldn’t get out of its own way, that was good enough.
There was a palpable sense of concern in the stands once it became apparent that fifth-year senior quarterback Billy Ragone wasn’t going to play on his sprained ankle, leaving a tandem of Ryan Becker and Adam Strouss to handle the duties under center.
That concern quickly turned into fear once a Spencer Kulcsar fumble deep in Penn territory led to a Yale field goal and a 3-0 deficit on the scoreboard, followed up by a three-and-out.
But as has happened so many times this season, it took another exceptional defensive play from the Quakers to restore order at Franklin Field.
After the Red and Blue’s punt coverage unit blocked a Yale player into Donald Panciello’s punt and Ian Dobbins recovered the live ball, Penn’s offense finally played like the well-oiled machine it was supposed to be all season long.
Two plays after the punt, Becker, a 1(B) quarterback behind Ragone for so many years now, played like a 1(A), hitting Kyle Wilcox on a wheel route for six on a play the Quakers had been waiting all week to run.
“It was a great game plan by the coaches and we just went out and executed it perfectly,” Becker said. “Kyle made a great catch and run.”
Though Becker didn’t drop back much on Saturday (completing 10 passes on only 13 attempts), he made every pass count, preferring to let the running game do most of the work before burning the Bulldogs deep — like on the 29-yard rainbow he dropped to Conner Scott for a touchdown just before the first half ended.
Penn’s rushing stats for the day looked even gaudier than Beckers 76.9 percent completion percentage: 218 yards (129 from Wilcox) to go along with touchdown carries from Kulcsar and Strouss.
And once Strouss’ TD — the first of his career — gave Penn a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter, the afternoon seemed all but over, especially against a Red and Blue defense that had held Yale without a third-down conversion in the first half.
But much like in the season opener against Lafayette, the Quakers allowed an overmatched opponent back into the game.
Wilcox fumbled at the Yale 25 while the Red and Blue were seemingly en route to another touchdown, and Bulldogs quarterback Morgan Roberts — who had been harassed and harried by Penn’s defensive front all day — carved up the Quakers’ prevent defense for two fourth quarter touchdowns.
“In hindsight, we were trying to protect the lead, we thought we had things relatively in hand,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “And we probably went a little bit softer in zone coverage than we might’ve [needed to].”
Only a pair of Sam Chwarzynski interceptions, the first coming almost immediately after the Bulldogs had recovered an onside kick and the second inside Penn’s seven-yard line, prevented this game from being even closer than its 28-17 final result.
Despite the late struggles, today was probably Penn’s most complete game of the season. The pass rush was effective. The offensive line dominated Yale’s front seven and helped give the Quakers a huge time-of-possession advantage.
But at the same time, the Red and Blue were stung by the same old problems. Another missed field goal from Connor Loftus. Fumbles. Fourth quarter struggles. Everyone in the Penn locker room knows there’s work to be done.
“We’ve still got to finish the games a little bit better than what we are [doing right now,” Bagnoli said. “There’s still room to grow.”
And if the Quakers can’t figure out how to do that, they could get burned when they face a team that can capitalize on mistakes… like the next three opponents on Penn’s schedule.