Stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the Penn football quarterback battle is back.
After sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover had started each of the team’s first seven games and appeared to have run with the starting job, junior Nick Robinson came off the bench to more than double Glover’s passing output during last week’s 13-7 win at Brown.
Now, as the Quakers approach a Friday night showdown on ESPNU where they’ll hope to break a third-place tie with Cornell, things are right back to where they were before the season — when it comes to who’s under center, it’s anyone’s game.
“We’ll probably see a very similar thing to what we’ve done before. Both have worked hard in various situations early in the season, and Nick was injured early, so it took a little bit of time,” coach Ray Priore said. “It’s a great tandem, and you go with the guy who’s doing well. So if they’re both doing well, they’re both playing.”
Both have seen success in spots for Penn (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) this season, but in the team’s most recent contest, Robinson stood out as the superior option.
Only playing for four of the team’s 13 drives, Robinson completed six of seven passes for 46 yards, including the Quakers’ lone touchdown to senior wide receiver Steve Farrell. Penn scored 10 of its 13 points in Robinson’s drives, a number that would’ve been even higher had junior Abe Willows not lost a fumble on Brown’s four-yard line during one drive in the second quarter.
Still, while Robinson seems to have had the hot hand recently, he has thrown just 12 passes all season, while Glover has been the team’s primary option. The exact distribution of playing time on Friday night remains to be seen, but the team’s belief in both guys is indisputable.
“Honestly, I don’t really care who’s back there, because I’m confident in them,” senior offensive lineman Tommy Dennis said. “Whoever is back there is gonna get the job done, so I know as long as the O-line gets the job done, they’re gonna make the right plays.”
If Dennis’ offensive line can perform like it did a week ago, the Red and Blue will have nothing to worry about.
Despite only passing for 66 total yards, Penn controlled last week’s contest against Brown all afternoon, thanks in part to 246 rushing yards from junior Karekin Brooks. With Cornell (3-4, 2-2) entering this weekend ranked seventh in the Ancient Eight in rushing defense, only ahead of the Bears, the Quakers may have the opportunity to thrive on the ground once again.
“We’re just working on camaraderie, chemistry. We played well last week, which is awesome, but there’s a lot of stuff we can improve on,” said Dennis, whose offensive line has recently broken in freshman center Travis Spreen to the starting lineup. “Getting that communication and chemistry down is gonna be big.”
While Cornell wasn’t very impressive in its most recent showing — a 66-0 blowout loss to Princeton — the Big Red has proven to be capable when at its best. Led by junior running back Harold Coles, Cornell blew out previously undefeated Scared Heart in Week 4, a team Penn squeaked by, and followed that up with a 28-24 upset of Harvard.
Coles has dominated all season long, with 512 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. Penn is no stranger to the junior, who secured 122 yards in the ground and 51 in the air in last season’s 29-22 loss at Franklin Field. The Quakers know that taking down the Big Red centers around shutting Coles down.
“Cornell has a very talented tailback, and we gotta do the same thing [as last week],” Priore said. “When you make teams one-dimensional, you take away the things they can do.”
Though neither team has a realistic shot at the Ivy title with Dartmouth and Princeton standing at 4-0, there’s still something to play for. Besides the fact that a win would clinch Penn’s fourth winning season in Priore’s four years as head coach, the Quakers also seek to maintain the “Trustees’ Cup” for the fifth consecutive year, a trophy given out annually to the winner of Division I’s sixth-most played rivalry game.
The Red and Blue might not be playing for the trophy they originally wanted, but with a nationally televised game between two rivals each seeking to claw above .500 in Ancient Eight play, Friday night lights will feel like a title bout nonetheless.