On Saturday evening, Penn football showed that they are a good Ivy League team, just not a great FCS team.
Playing your first game of the season against a team that already has two under its belt is difficult, and coach Ray Priore acknowledged that challenge after the contest. But the Penn offense, at least for the first half, was up to the challenge.
Senior quarterback Alek Torgersen was fantastic for the game’s first 30 minutes. He completed pass after pass and continually showed off his ability to tuck the football and make plays with his feet.
The Quakers’ first drive highlighted the skills of their veteran leaders. The 87-yard, seven play drive lasted only one minute and 38 seconds before concluding with a Justin Watson 24-yard touchdown grab.
The junior wideout was Torgersen’s favorite target, finishing with 133 receiving yards and both of Penn’s touchdowns that came through the air.
But, as good as the Red and Blue were in the opening periods, they couldn’t reclaim that swagger once the second half began.
After going the entire first half without a punt, every single Penn drive in the game’s final 30 minutes ended in one.
“We came out in the second half and didn’t have that extra little pop that we were looking for,” Priore said.
Lehigh however, never took their foot off the gas.
The Mountain Hawks were able to make successful halftime adjustments that the Quakers couldn’t match, and a game that had begun as an offensive shootout quickly became a one-sided affair.
It wasn’t until the offense cooled down that the defensive struggles became most evident.
Clearly the presence of last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Drake was missed by the young Red and Blue defense.
Other than an interception by sophomore defensive back Mason Williams on Lehigh’s second drive, there was a lack of big plays.
Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky was too much to handle for the Red and Blue, who failed to record a sack all game, and he continually relied on his shiftiness to escape tackles and extend drives.
Luckily, Penn won’t be facing many offenses of Lehigh’s caliber once they enter Ivy play. Until then the Red and Blue should focus on strengthening that unit so that they can give their high-powered offense better field position and more time with the ball.
It’s hard to draw conclusions about a team after one game, especially when their opponent had already played two games of their own.
But last season Penn also lost to Lehigh by 21 points before defeating Villanova and finishing the year as Ivy League champions, so not too much weight should be associated with this loss. More encouraging is that unlike last season, the offense looks like it has the potential to be a dominating force.
The turning point of the game was when Lehigh punched in a touchdown as time expired in the second quarter to head into the break tied with Penn. If the defense can hold strong in similar situations as the season progresses, the outcomes will improve and the Quakers will again be in the Ivy title mix.
What’s clear is that success this season will rely on Torgersen, Watson and the rest of John Reagan’s offense to consistently score and put pressure on the opposition for an entire 60 minutes.
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