With the Ivy League ban on postseason play, Penn football’s non-conference matchups aren’t the team’s top priority. That’s taking home the Ivy League crown.
But in the two weeks leading up to Penn’s Ancient Eight opener at Dartmouth, it’s nevertheless a disappointment to see the team not yet in midseason form.
After the Red and Blue’s season-opening loss to Lehigh, coach Ray Priore said his team didn’t play all four quarters in a contest that turned from nail-biter to blowout.
Seemingly trading touchdowns with Lehigh early, Penn attained a 28-21 advantage on senior quarterback Alek Torgersen’s seven-yard rush with 1:14 left in the first half. However, a 16-yard kickoff gave Lehigh the ball already in Penn territory. The Mountain Hawks drove down to the Penn 3 without much issue, as five seconds remained in the period.
Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky couldn’t complete his first-and-goal pass from the 3. But the Quakers were called for roughing the passer, setting up one last play at the Penn 1 where Shafnisky ran it in himself. In the second half, the Quakers fell flat, surrendering 21 points without an answer.
After the game, Shafnisky said that he thought the Quakers giving Lehigh one more chance gave Lehigh the momentum. Priore later agreed, comparing it to the Red and Blue’s 2015 tilt with Fordham.
“You can’t do things to give the other team opportunities,” Priore said. “In the first half [against Fordham] last year, our first two drives we turned it over, a fumble and a pick.”
Yet on Saturday, it was more of the same story. Torgersen produced three first-half turnovers by way of an interception and two fumbles, and Fordham commanded a 24-7 lead shortly into the second quarter.
The Quakers’ turnovers against the Rams proved especially costly, as they essentially put the ball in the hands of Fordham running back Chase Edmonds. In last year’s head-to-head, Edmonds bulldozed for 279 total yards and five touchdowns. He finished fourth in the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year voting that season. Penn needed to prevent him from taking over the game.
Instead, he finished with 203 yards and four touchdowns.
All in all, the Quakers were lucky that the Rams converted just 10 points off the three turnovers. But some of it was creating their own luck, similar to what made last season’s team so successful. After Fordham returned Torgersen’s pick for 40 yards late in the first quarter to place the Rams at the Penn 11, the defense forced a three-and-out, ceding just a 22-yard field goal.
In the second quarter, after the second of Torgersen’s fumbles, the defense came up clutch again. Sophomore cornerback Mason Williams intercepted his second pass of the season, this one in the end zone.
And in striking resemblance to the prior week, a Penn penalty gave the opponent a goal-line chance on what would be the last play of the first half. But this time, junior linebacker Colton Moskal stopped Edmonds short of the goal line. Perhaps that is evidence the team is building off the first week’s mishaps.
It’s true that Ivy opponents won’t be as good as Lehigh and Fordham. But look at plays like senior wide receiver Adam Strouss taking a delay of game penalty while working out of the wildcat at the Fordham 1. If Penn continues to make avoidable mistakes, we won’t see repeat of a conference championship. We’ll see a team fall short of its potential and lose winnable games, as has been the case in each of the first two games.
Let’s not forget that Penn started 1-3 last season, with the one victory coming against an injury-plagued and fatigued Villanova team. Starting midway through last year’s Fordham matchup, though, the Quakers played much sharper football. They won six straight Ivy games to earn a share of the title.
Most of last year’s team has returned, and we’ve seen flashes from the offense, defense and special teams that suggest Penn can be every bit as good as last year. What’s to stop the Red and Blue once they cut down on the mistakes?
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.