Megan Soisson | Penn football defense too close to breaking
Despite success, Quakers 'D' continues to give up the big play
October 24, 2011, 10:25 pm·
Rachel Bleustein | DP
I can’t help it: I’m a worrier. It runs in my family.
As solid as Penn’s offense looked in Saturday’s fourth quarter against Yale and in all of its late-game comebacks, I’m worried about the defense giving up big plays.
Just as it only took the Quakers a few plays to turn around the game in their favor Saturday, just a few big plays given up by the defense could snap Penn’s 18-game Ivy winning streak.
Sometimes my worries are unwarranted, but statistics don’t lie: the Red and Blue are making a habit of giving up huge plays on third down.
In the third quarter on Saturday, as the Quakers were just beginning to stage a comeback, Penn’s defense was one stop away from forcing a Yale three-and-out.
On third and 7 at the Bulldogs’ own 40, quarterback Patrick Witt took advantage of sophomore safety Sebastian Jaskowski’s youth and burned him on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Chris Smith.
Third-and-long pass plays are nothing new to the Quakers defense, which allows just 128 rushing yards per game, third best in the Ivy League.
The pass defense ranks third in the league as well, allowing just over 200 yards in the air per game.
But Penn ranks fifth in opponent third-down conversions, and three of its remaining opponents — Princeton, Harvard and Brown — convert third downs at least 40 percent of the time.
The troubling part, though, doesn’t show up in the statistics.
Against Lafayette, the Quakers let up a 44-yard touchdown on third and 10. Against Villanova, it was a 54-yard touchdown on third and 8. Against Fordham, it was a 45-yard touchdown pass on third and 9.
Penn’s performance in the Ivy League has been markedly better in terms of giving up big plays on third down, excluding the Yale game.
But Penn’s remaining Ivy opponents — Brown, Princeton, Harvard and Cornell — may be on to the pattern and could exploit the weakness in the next few weeks.
On paper, the Red and Blue sit atop the league. Statistically, both the offense and the defense are in good shape, and the Quakers dominate time of possession at over 32 minutes per game, first in the Ivy League.
But that statistical domination is what’s worrisome.
If the defense gives up too much yardage on long plays through the air, the time of possession, the statistical dominance, the 18-game Ivy win streak, the quest for a three-peat and the hours of work and preparation coach Al Bagnoli stresses as necessary week in and week out, will all be for naught.
Senior linebacker Erik Rask attested to his defense’s “bend not break” mentality — I’m worried it’s on the verge of snapping.
This team doesn’t deserve a loss like that.
A decisive defensive stop against Brown next week could do just the trick to quit my worrying — or at least save me a few wrinkles.
MEGAN SOISSON is a junior health and societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her email address is soisson@theDP.com.