There’s an old saying in sports that defines some of the best programs in the country: Great teams do not rebuild — they reload.
While certain schools may experience success over a short period of time, it’s difficult for most programs to sustain their level of dominance. When teams can’t remain on top, most end up settling for a lengthy rebuilding process.
After watching Penn begin its pursuit of a fourth outright Ivy League title in five years on Saturday, it’s clear that the Quakers aren’t rebuilding so much as they’re reloading even at some of their most inexperienced positions.
Indeed, despite a terrific season defensively a year ago, Penn saw some of its best talent graduate on that side of the ball this offseason. Defensive end Brandon Copeland, linebacker Steve Lias and defensive back Dave Twamley all moved on, leaving apparent holes throughout Penn’s defense.
The offense wasn’t much luckier this offseason, as first-team All-Ivy offensive lineman Joe Bonadies graduated, and Lyle Marsh, the Quakers’ leading rusher a year ago, left the team for academic reasons.
Even veteran punter Scott Lopano said goodbye to Franklin Field this offseason. As Penn’s 26 yards per punt average off the foot of sophomore Max Kurucar demonstrated on Saturday, good punters are certainly hard to come by.
Although Penn returns an experienced group of starters on both sides of the ball, no one could have blamed the Quakers for stumbling out of the gate, especially as they try to work new players into their system.
If the Lafayette game is any indication, however, it appears that Penn has picked up right where it left off in 2012.
Junior running back Spencer Kulcsar picked up the backfield receiving slack left behind by Marsh and the Quakers’ defense, sparked by a still nascent defensive line combination, finished with six sacks in the 27-21 victory over the Leopards.
While Penn began both halves strong, racing out to a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and a 20-point lead entering the fourth, it was the Red and Blue’s overall depth that was most impressive.
Indeed, although senior wide receiver and 2012 second-team All-Ivy Conner Scott had a solid game, he was just one of four players to haul in five passes Saturday.
Kulcsar and senior wideouts Ty Taylor and Ryan Mitchell combined for 15 catches totaling 172 yards, making the absence of the now-graduated Joe Holder hardly noticeable.
Junior Jimmy Wagner, sophomore Austin Taps and senior Alex Kahn each played well against Lafayette despite all three being first-time starters on the defensive line.
The defense as a whole set the tone on Saturday, as Wagner’s fumble recovery off senior linebacker David Park’s first-quarter sack put the Quakers in prime position to take the lead early.
Without a doubt, there are still plenty of issues surrounding the Red and Blue as they prepare for this weekend’s game against Villanova.
Specifically, the mental mistakes and lapses in execution that arose while trying to close out Saturday’s game will need to be corrected if Penn is to beat its cross-town rival for the first time since 1911.
But if Penn’s matchup with Lafayette tells us anything, it is that the team has reloaded once again, and the depth which the Quakers showed on Saturday will be vital to making another title run, as well as a shot at Ivy League history.
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