Midterm season is almost upon us, but Penn football had its first true exam on Saturday. And it appears they passed with room to spare.
Penn's offense looked far more potent against Lehigh than it did in last week's season opener. Right from the get-go, the Quakers came out with energy and aggression, taking just five plays to march down the field for a score on their first drive of the day.
Much of that ferocity came in the form of sophomore running back Karekin Brooks. In the wake of Tre Solomon's injury, the second-year back has gotten ample opportunities to prove himself, and he has not wasted them.
In the first half alone, Brooks had runs of 61, 22, and 17 yards, and punched the ball in twice for the Red and Blue. He was explosive, hitting whatever holes his O-Line gave him quickly and with plenty of speed, and the Mountain Hawks just couldn't keep up.
He finished the day with a career-high 268 yards — just four yards shy of the program's single game record — and 4 touchdowns, three rushing and one passing. With Solomon's return on the horizon, the Quakers have found themselves a deadly two-headed monster in the backfield.
As for quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie, the senior looked much more poised and confident behind center in his second career start. He stood his ground, stayed composed in the face of pressure, and delivered plenty of strikes throughout the day. He still had a few ugly throws, but he was vastly improved from his first start.
What was perhaps even more encouraging was just how much Fischer-Colbrie spread the ball around. While star wideout Justin Watson was his favorite target, he didn't rely solely on him. He connected with six different targets, none more than five times (six times if you count Watson's TD from a backwards pass), on a mix of short passes and long shots downfield. Fischer-Colbrie's performance showed exactly what Ray Priore saw in him when he named him the starter and provided a lot of hope for the rest of the season.
While the offense might have passed with flying colors, the defense still has plenty of room to improve. They were very inconsistent, going from air-tight to porous on consecutive plays, and they were extremely susceptible to big plays, both on the ground and in the air.
They also didn't do themselves any favors by committing several unnecessary penalties, and they couldn't get off the field, as Lehigh had a 58.3% third down conversion rate. But one big area that the defense did not struggle with was winning the turnover battle.
The Quakers forced three turnovers, including a strip sack by junior Nick Miller on the opening possession of the game. And to the offense's credit, all three ensuing drives resulted in touchdowns.
The defense was also able to get some key stops, highlighted by some crucial sacks. All three sacks derailed what could have been scoring drives for Lehigh, and they also had a goal-line stand that resulted in a turnover on downs. While there were many problems that the Quakers need to sort out, the defense came through when it counted.
Last week, my colleague argued that we still didn't know much about this team. But after the game against Lehigh, we do know a few things: they can spread the ball around, they can score and they can force key turnovers.
And if they keep that up, they'll be just fine in Ivy play.
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