Penn football’s loss to Princeton on Saturday was, for lack of a better, less-ironic word, sobering.
The aura around the rivalry game was already sour after the Penn administration’s decision to clamp down on student tailgating and drinking.
But it only got worse once the game started. A three-and-out to start the game was bad, but the blocked punt and the resulting return for a Princeton touchdown took the air out of the Quakers’ sails. That wind never returned.
The 28-0 final scoreline was fitting of the performance — the defense was subpar, and the offense was miserable. Giving up a few touchdowns to Princeton was honestly expected, as the Tigers’ offense has been dynamic and impressive in recent weeks. There were a couple individual errors that led to Princeton points, but it was the offense that should shoulder the blame for this performance.
I mean, Penn hasn’t been shut out in a ball game since 2013. For as great as senior quarterback Alek Torgersen has been this year, he sure did stink on Saturday. He threw for 179 yards total, but that’s bearing in mind that many of those came in the fourth quarter, after the game was over.
It’s not that I expect him to be performing at an all-star level all 10 weeks of the season — though, if he wants to be drafted at the end of the year, he should. But this was easily the worst game out of the dozen-or-so I’ve seen him play in. Saturday’s nightmare could just be an outlier, but it could something more.
Ten straight Ivy League wins for the Quakers finally came to an end against Princeton. In the game of chance and probability, there are always hot streaks. Teams get lucky, quarterbacks get hot and turnovers randomly pop up. But I fear that this loss could be a regression to the mean.
The team I saw out on Powers Field wasn’t the world-beating, swashbuckling squad coach Ray Priore has set up over the past two years. It looked more like the down-trodden, rag-tag bunch that former coach Al Bagnoli left behind when he left Penn with his tail between his legs. And I know that the true value of the team lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s yet to be discovered at which end they truly lie.
Friday night’s game against Harvard should be the date with destiny this team needs to forge its identity. Will they rise up to the challenge, bounce back and beat the Crimson to maintain their challenge for (a third of) the Ivy title? Or will they fall to the only remaining unbeaten Ivy, falling out of contention in the process?
Personally, I expect to see a fire in their eyes that drives them into the lion’s den guns blazing. Torgersen could very well respond with an MVP performance, throwing multiple touchdowns, running for one or two and putting himself back on the NFL scouting list at the same time.
But he could also come out with a whimper, throwing interceptions and coughing up the ball, too. In the Quakers’ final real test of the Torgersen-era offense, we can only wait and see what their DNA is really made of.
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