NEW YORK — There was something clearly wrong for Penn football.
In a game that everyone expected to be an easy win for the Quakers, Columbia struck first, leading 7-0 in the middle of the second quarter.
While Columbia’s freshman quarterback Kelly Hilinski was having success in his first career start, Penn fifth-year senior Billy Ragone was looking like the less experienced player, consistently failing to lead the Quakers down the field.
Ragone’s inconsistency hurt Penn from the beginning of the game, as he followed a solid 20-yard pass to Ryan Mitchell on the Quakers’ first drive with an overthrow and a strip sack, which Penn was lucky to recover.
In their first four drives, the Quakers brought the ball into Columbia territory three times before stalling and ended up without points.
Needless to say, the Quakers needed some energy.
Then coach Al Bagnoli made a decision that turned the game around for Penn, replacing Ragone with backup Ryan Becker for a drive midway through the second quarter.
In just nine plays, over three and a half minutes, Becker took the helm and led Penn down the field. The senior quarterback completed three easy passes to get Penn to the Columbia 22-yard line, where he made the pass of the game on third and 17.
With Columbia sending the house on a blitz, Becker made a perfect touch pass, with the ball floating just over a Columbia defender to a wide-open Mitchell King, and the tight end walked in for an easy touchdown.
“We were moving the ball so well. We were able to just keep going,” Becker said. “I told them all to just keep fighting, and third down, we had to execute to get on to the next one.”
“It proved to be pretty beneficial to us,” Bagnoli added. “We’re in rotation like we always are. It was great to see that we completed some drives.”
Becker played one more series before being replaced by Ragone. Ragone carried Becker’s momentum and led a late first-half touchdown drive to give Penn a lead it would never relinquish.
However, with Ragone still struggling, it was a lot more of the same in the second half: Ragone couldn’t give Penn another touchdown opportunity and threw a fourth-quarter interception.
After an interception by Evan Jackson, it was Becker who made a few simple plays and led Penn into the end zone for the third and final time.
And it was Becker under center for the final drives of the game after Ragone left with an ankle injury.
“I don’t know if it’s an ankle sprain,” Bagnoli said. “There was no reason to risk him, to jeopardize anything.”
Moving forward, it is easy to question Ragone’s health with the fifth-year senior starter simply not performing at his best.
The other fifth-year senior quarterback — the one who has only been getting a few drives each game — performed when the Quakers needed him.
With a strong Yale squad heading to Franklin Field next week, it might be time to see more of Becker on a consistent basis.
Don’t get me wrong — Billy Ragone should be Penn’s starter. He is the one that has led the Red and Blue to multiple Ivy League titles, and he will likely be there for Penn when the team needs him.
But with his inconsistency through five games, his injury and the stagnating Penn offense, the Quakers are going to need to find more playing time for Ryan Becker.
Because after five games of watching Penn’s offense struggling to finish its drives and watching Ragone overthrow receivers against a flawed Columbia defense, it is time to look for a solution.
After watching the ugly win over Columbia, that solution appears to be a little more Becker for the Red and Blue.
STEVEN TYDINGS is a Wharton sophomore from Hopewell, N.J. and is a sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at email@example.com._
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