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Penn Sprint Football lost to Post in a horrible game with the score of 27 to 48. 2 injuries on post. Credit: Isabella Gong , Isabella Gong

Last year, the faces of Penn’s defense were young and unheralded, whether among the front seven or on the outside containing receivers in the secondary.

However, youth will be no excuse heading into this season. Coach Bill Wagner knows that it may have been their Achilles heel last year in games against Army, who torched the Quakers for 590 total yards, or C.W. Post.

But a bigger concern for Wagner is the loss of sophomore Mack Pierson, who led the team in sacks last year with nine. Wagner revealed in an interview with The DP that Pierson is out for the season after suffering an upper body injury.

Wagner has been around the game for a long time and sticks to what he knows best, which is playing hard-nosed football by being physical at the point of attack. One of the ways he preserves his aggressive mentality is through utilizing a 3-4 defense, a smart choice considering the speed of the players in the CSFL.

But on the heels of Pierson’s unfortunate news, the question marks in this 3-4 defense surround the front seven. While no team can be perfect and hold a rushing attack to fewer than 100 yards every game, giving up a performance like the game last season in which Navy rushed for 318 yards is unacceptable. Senior linebacker Matt Pellegrino and sophomore defensive end Ed Cai must both step up and shut down the run against potent offenses like Navy’s.

But, perhaps the bigger question is how effective the Quaker pass rush can be without Pierson.

“It’s come as a shock to the whole defense,” Wagner said. “We have seven or eight down linemen we are looking at, but they play other positions.”

Pierson went nuts last season, racking up nine total sacks (the most in the CSFL) followed by Cai with four and a half. Wagner can utilize the strength and versatility of the linebacking corps to create blitz packages that will keep opposing passers off balance and substitute for a lack of pressure up the middle in Pierson’s absence.

More important than Pierson is the issue of cleaning up the secondary. Penn gave up too many big plays downfield. Against Army last season, the Quakers were crushed beneath a 416 passing yard performance.

Senior defensive back Nick Rush and sophomore Stu Helgeson will be looked to improve on their already impressive skill sets. If those defensive backs can contribute around nine passes defensed each, the
secondary will look formidable. Not to mention, these players boast impressive statures and will be able to intercept the ball as effectively as the team did last year, when they picked off opposing quarterbacks nine times.

Unfortunately, the odds are against the Red and Blue’s pass rush and interior down linemen. Somebody needs to step up and contribute by getting pressure up the middle and at least getting three sacks for the absence of Pierson not to be a parasite on the defense’s efforts.

My money is on the fact that this defense now has had some time to get older and better. The departure of Anthony DiBella affects the middle of the field, but the men following behind him are more than qualified, if not potentially better heading into this season. As long as the secondary can keep the number of big plays down, the Quakers will be able to improve a 3-4 defense from producing a 3-4 season.

For now, injuries and question marks around the defense’s front seven will continue to surround the Red and Blue. The rumored “explosive offense” will have to carry the team if the defense’s problems cannot be solved. Hopefully, Wagner and his offense can control their volatility to help a hemorrhaging defense.


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