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Penn Football Vs. Columbia Credit: Thomas Munson , Thomas Munson

After a difficult start to the season, Penn football coach Al Bagnoli stressed the need for his team to get back to the fundamentals.

It took a drive, but that’s just what the Quakers’ defense did in its 31-7 win over Columbia on Saturday.

After letting up a touchdown on its first series, Penn’s defense not only shut out the Lions, but also held their rushing attack to a measly 20 yards.

It was a display of resolve and consistency that Penn fans had gotten used to over the years, but missed so far this season after the Red and Blue had failed to hold an opponent under 31 points entering Saturday’s contest.

Plain and simple, the Quakers returned to playing Penn defense.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Columbia coach Pete Mangurian said after the game. “That’s Penn’s identity.”

It was the Red and Blue’s front seven that truly got back to its identity.

“We played assignment football and stuck our gaps,” safety Evan Jackson, who had six tackles, said . “The guys up front did a great job swarming to the football. It was a good performance for the run defense.”

The Quakers’ front four and linebacking corps had their way with Columbia, keeping running back Cameron Molina inside the tackles and generating consistent pressure on quarterback Trevor McDonagh.

Defensive coordinator Ray Priore unleashed a number of blitzes that set his rushers up nicely to beat Columbia’s protection.

Without standout pass rusher Sam Chwarzynski this season, the Quakers have relied on more of a collective effort to get to opposing quarterbacks.

Saturday was a prime example of that, as the defense’s two total sacks were made by players who had not yet brought down an opposing quarterback this year — senior Joe Naji, and juniors Dylan Muscat and Luke Nossem.

Penn’s sack total didn’t properly reflect the pressure its pass rush got on McDonagh, however. The Columbia junior was hurried often and nearly taken down several more times.

The unit also was able to take advantage of Columbia’s numerous pre-snap mistakes and give Penn’s offense a number of short fields to work with.

It wasn’t anything exceptional, but it was more than enough to keep the Lions scoreless for nearly the entire game.

Saturday’s solid defensive effort will also serve to establish a blueprint the unit must follow for Penn to neutralize the better offenses in the Ivy League.

Unfortunately for the Red and Blue’s title hopes, the challenges for the Quakers’ defense don’t mount gradually: the Red and Blue face the Ancient Eight’s top offense, Yale, this weekend.

The Bulldogs boast a balanced and dynamic attack lead by the Ivy League’s top passer, Morgan Roberts, and rusher, Tyler Varga.

But if the Quakers’ defense is able bring its toughness and intensity that were on display against Columbia into New Haven, the Elis won’t have it easy on Saturday.

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