justinwatson

In the first half against Yale, junior wide out Justin Watson put up 160 yards and three touchdowns as Penn football jumped out to a 35-0 lead.

Photo: Alex Fisher / The Daily Pennsylvanian

You know how some days just suck?

You oversleep your alarm. You’re late to your 9 AM lecture. Everyone seems to be in a grumpy mood. The dining hall is serving some unidentifiable mystery meat.

Usually, the best option is just to go to bed early that night and pretend the day never happened — it’s pointless trying to salvage such a lost cause. Sometimes it can be healthy to just press the reset button and move on.

That’s precisely what Penn football needs to do following a disastrous second half in Saturday’s 49-28 loss to Lehigh. After playing some very pretty football for the game’s first 30 minutes, the Quakers seemingly forgot how to move the ball on offense, never advancing past the 50 yard line in the entire second half. After having not punted during the entire first period, the Red and Blue did so five times after intermission.

Symptoms of the Quakers’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day popped up all over the stat sheet.

The 49 points allowed was the team’s most since a 60-22 loss to Fordham during the disappointing 2014 season. Lehigh’s star senior quarterback Nick Shafnisky — who shredded the team a season ago with five total touchdowns — actually managed to improve in the rematch, accounting for six scores, three in the air and three on the ground. Only three different Penn players caught a pass. The Quakers failed to record a sack.

But you know how much attention Penn should pay to those stat lines? Nada. Zilch. None.

While the conventional wisdom says that teams should try to learn from their mistakes and analyze what went wrong, I think it would be more constructive for the Red and Blue to simply forget Saturday’s game — specifically the second half — ever happened.

Lehigh, as they showed a season ago when they trounced Penn by a similar 42-21 score, is simply better than anything the Ivy League has to offer. Shafnisky is a more talented quarterback than any Penn will see in Ancient Eight play, especially following the graduations of Dartmouth’s Dalyn Williams and Harvard’s Scott Hosch.

And Saturday’s result does nothing to change the fact that Penn is an incredibly talented team. As my colleague Thomas Munson observed in yesterday’s DP, Saturday’s first half was full of reassurances that Penn has a championship-quality squad: Quarterback Alek Torgersen is still a dual threat behind center, capable of both throwing and rushing for scores. Though it is probably suboptimal for him to lead the team in rushing yards and attempts as he did on Saturday, Red and Blue fans will likely take it if he continues to average 6.6 yards per attempt.

And receiver Justin Watson, back for his junior season after rewriting the program record book a year ago, showed once again why he is probably the best player in the Ivy League. In notching a game-high two receiving touchdowns for 133 yards, he showed that he is capable of burning defenses with both his agility (in the form of designed runs and YAC-rich screen passes) and raw speed (via old-school deep ball throws from Torgersen). Saturday was more of the same for Watson and, barring injury, he should only continue to improve over the second half of his career.

So, Penn football had its fair share of positives to go with its surfeit of negatives.

Still, the central takeaway of Saturday’s contest has to be that there are no takeaways — sure, the defense will likely regress somewhat in the absence of graduated star linebacker Tyler Drake and the offense will continue to be headlined by talented stars. But this team cannot be graded until they play competition closer to their own weight class.

The Red and Blue play again at Fordham this Saturday afternoon. I would advise Penn coach Ray Priore and his staff to look ahead to the future rather than back at last weekend’s enigma of a contest.

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