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Penn football's defense will have its hands full trying to contain Yale junior quarterback Kurt Rawlings, who leads the Ivy League in passing yards.

Credit: Pranay Vemulamada

Some things are just better under the lights. Football is one of those things.

Penn football will play on Friday night for the first time this season in its home matchup against Yale. Aside from the spectacle of playing under Friday night lights, the contest will also be on ESPNU, making it a nationally televised affair.

While a nationally televised game likely creates more anticipation on Penn's (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) behalf, it will all be for naught if the Red and Blue do not come away with a victory. Yale enters this matchup trying to get the bad taste of Dartmouth out of its mouth, as the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1) were handled by the Big Green 41-18 two weeks ago.

Penn is coming off of a narrow 13-10 victory against Columbia, but there are certainly things to shore up for the Quakers, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Last weekend, in five first and goal situations, they only came up with 13 points.

“It’s self-inflicted wounds,” coach Ray Priore said. “We’re down there, and we’re making mistakes. It’s not what the opponent’s doing. It’s one thing if the opponent’s beating you, but we’re beating ourselves. It’s really just focus, concentrating, and just finishing.”

The Red and Blue defense, on the other hand, would likely be content with a performance similar to what it showed last Saturday. All 10 points that the group allowed came as a result of great starting field position for Columbia. 

Yale’s offense presents a unique challenge, however, most notably due to the proficiency of its passing attack. Averaging just under 300 yards per game through the air, Yale's junior quarterback Kurt Rawlings currently leads the conference in passing yards. The junior wide receiver duo of Reed Klubnik and JP Shohfi has a combined total of almost 1000 yards on the season. Shohfi has hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions, and Klubnik has a whopping six of his own.

While the Quakers know it will not be easy to contain Rawlings and the Yale receivers, they are less focused on their opponent and more on perfecting their own game.

“For the most part, we really just gotta do our jobs top to bottom,” senior nose tackle Cooper Gardner said. “I know from the [defensive line] standpoint, we’re gonna have to generate a good pass rush. We’ve had some success in the weeks past, so the better pass rush we can get will help out our [defensive backs] even more, and it just works the same way. The better pass coverage they get, the better pass rush we can get.” 

The halfback spot for the Elis may or may not feature sophomore running back Zane Dudek. The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year and first-team all-conference selection has been limited in recent weeks due to injury. In his absence, junior Alan Lamar and freshman Spencer Alston have stepped up, each totaling over 200 rushing yards in the few games that they have played.

Priore and defensive coordinator Bob Benson feel they have a blueprint for making the Bulldogs’ offense look at least slightly more pedestrian.

“First off, you gotta stop the run,” Priore said. “If you stop the run [and] force them into obvious pass situations, we’ll be in good shape. They’re throwing the ball very effectively right now, and we’ll have our challenges, but they’ll have a challenge with us, as well.”

On the other side of the ball, the Yale defense has been vulnerable at times, giving up a total of 65 points in its first two Ivy games of the season. Penn sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover and the rest of the offense can take advantage of this, as they’ve shown the ability to move the ball down the field. This week, the focus will be on finishing drives, and if they can do that, the Quakers may be well on their way to another home victory.

The lights will shine bright on this weekend, but it is yet to be determined whether the Red and Blue are ready for primetime in another pivotal conference matchup. 

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