It’s easy to feel like Penn football is an obvious favorite to beat Princeton this Saturday and (eventually) win another Ivy League title. It’s hard to argue with ten straight Ivy wins (which I’m about to do).
Now, I don’t think Princeton will beat Penn on Saturday. And unlike a pair of recent NFL games, NCAA games can’t end in a tie (Weird, right? You’d think the NFL would be more intent on ensuring each game has one winner and one loser. Anyway, I digress. Back to the “student-athletes”).
I expect the Red and Blue to pull out the victory on the road in New Jersey, but there is no clear favorite. This is the first of two massive obstacles the Quakers will have to clear on their way to what could be, but very well might not be, a real (read: solo) Ivy League championship.
In Ancient Eight play, Princeton is 3-1 to Penn’s 4-0. But Princeton’s lone loss came in a 23-20 overtime loss against Harvard, a powerhouse the Quakers have not yet had to face. Princeton’s wins, meanwhile, have been incredibly convincing, with a relatively tame 31-7 win over Brown sandwiched between 48-13 and 56-7 maulings of Columbia and Cornell, respectively.
As for Penn, the wins have kept coming in bunches against Ivy foes, as the Quakers have not lost a conference game since the first game of 2015. But the Red and Blue have not encountered a worthy foe such as Harvard or Princeton through these first four games. The 42-7 win over Yale was an absolute clinic, and the 37-24 win over a regression-plagued Dartmouth team (Dartmouth grabbed a share of the title a year ago, but these are not your older brother’s Big Green) was more convincing than the scoreline shows.
But the 35-10 win over Columbia was closer than it seemed, and certainly closer than it needed to be. The Quakers kept the Lions in the game for far too long, and held just a 7-0 lead at halftime before opening things up after the intermission.
And this past Sunday, the Red and Blue certainly got a Halloween scare in a game they had no business losing (or coming close to doing so). After opening up a 21-0 halftime lead when Brown couldn’t sustain and then finish its drives, the Quakers allowed the Bears to claw back to 21-14. An interception in the end zone ended a dangerous final drive from Brown, but Penn’s inability to score a point in the second half was all too reminiscent of the second-half offensive mediocrity Penn displayed against Lehigh and Fordham.
The Princeton offense, with the most yards gained and points scored in Ivy League play, will be the greatest test a very good Penn defense has seen this season. The Princeton defense is the strongest in those two categories as well, so the Penn offense is in for a similar challenge.
Despite the above, I am fairly confident in the Quakers this Saturday. Why? Because I think the Quakers are better on offense, and better on defense. If the Red and Blue had played Cornell’s “football team,” Penn would probably catch and surpass Princeton on the offensive and defensive statsheets.
But the only thing of which I am very confident is that we will see a battle when these two teams take the field. Last year, the Red and Blue stole the game thanks to a blocked field goal that kept the win, and their slice of the Ivy championship pie, within reach. For the second year in a row, and the first time this season, the Quakers might need more than just greater skill and superior athletic ability to beat an Ivy opponent.
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