At a time when Penn football needs a bounce-back game, the Quakers are running into the wrong team.
Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) visit Columbia (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday in a critically important bounce back opportunity. Penn has a twenty-game winning streak against the Lions, and the Quakers hope to continue this trend this weekend.
However, the Ivy League has seen a new and improved Columbia team this year. The Lions won their first conference game against last year’s co-champion Princeton Tigers on the road by the score 29-24. They then defeated Marist with ease, by a whopping score of 41-17.
In fact, Columbia remains only one of two undefeated Ivy League teams left, alongside Dartmouth, who is 2-0 in the conference.
“I feel like they are a different team from last year… they are a physical group,” senior defensive end Louis Vecchio said.
Penn, on the other hand, has struggled as of late. After winning the first two games of the year against Ohio Dominican and Lehigh, the Red and Blue dropped two straight against Dartmouth and Central Connecticut State.
“We just realize we need execution. We need all 11 guys to do our jobs. The past two weeks showed us that we can have ten guys doing their jobs, but if one guy doesn’t, it could really gash us. It just brought the focus to a higher level and made us tighten things up as a defense,” Vecchio added.
Penn’s first Ivy League showdown of the year was a nail-bitter, ending in a game-winning touchdown for the Big Green as the clock expired.
Penn was then routed this past weekend 21-42 by Central Connecticut State. The Quakers scored all twenty-one points in the second quarter, with sophomore quarterback Nick Robinson throwing three touchdown passes.
“We put the film on and really the only difference was we weren’t shooting ourselves in the foot. We were just doing our jobs in that quarter. There were no penalties. Everyone was taking care of their gap responsibilities. Receivers were catching passes,” senior wide receiver Justin Watson said.
“We worry about the next game up. We don’t worry about anything other than playing Columbia. Obviously, we have been here before as a staff, two years ago, losing to Dartmouth…Our games understand that we don’t have the playoffs, so our whole season is sort of like you are always in playoff mode,” coach Ray Priore said.
Lately, Penn has been battling many injuries.
“We have a mentality of next man up. You don’t worry about injuries; they are going to happen. The guys who are injured are working hard to try to get back. The other guys have been prepped and coached and are ready to take their roles in wherever they may be,” the third-year coach added.
There seems to be a strong emphasis on trust.
“It’s just kind of a thing that we preach. Just complete trust, and next man up. The past few weeks have been tough... If everyone trusts the guy next to him, you only have to worry about your own job,” Vecchio explained.
There is a question mark in practice about who will be taking snaps offensively this weekend. Senior quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie was injured last week, and Robinson played well in Fischer-Colbrie’s place.
“We want to give Will all the time he needs to recover from it. Nothing major. He has practiced the last two days, so that has been good. Nick, from the start, has been getting reps in games which is phenomenal,” Priore said.
“Both have come out here and had two good days of practice so far… They both look healthy and confident,” Watson said.
The Quakers are focused on preparing for Saturday and executing against the Lions.
“I think that the main thing we talk about is if things are going well around here or if things are a little shaky, we are going to work," Watson explained. "Our job never changes. If we scored last time or we didn’t score or whatever the defense does, our job is always to go out there and score.
"That’s kind of the mindset we have kept.”
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