It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
With a crowd full of students and alumni on Homecoming Saturday, Penn football was supposed to beat Harvard, or at least keep the game close. Before this week, the Crimson were in the midst of a middling year in the Ivy League. Harvard carried a 2-3 conference record into Saturday’s matchup with Penn, even losing in October to Cornell, which the Quakers comfortably defeated last week.
At Franklin Field, with a passionate crowd behind them, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the Red and Blue would pull through with another win in the Ancient Eight. The Quakers were coming off two consecutive victories against Brown and Cornell in which there were positives on both sides of the ball.
In recent weeks, the team had reaped the benefits of its two-quaterback system, which featured sophomore Ryan Glover and junior Nick Robinson both receiving significant playing time. On the other side of the ball, Penn’s defense had only allowed seven points in each of the last two games, moving to No. 15 in the Football Championship Subdivision in total defense in the process.
However, those positives went out the window against Harvard, as the Quakers struggled to a 29-7 loss on Saturday. Instead of featuring the strengths that Penn has developed during the latter part of the season, the Homecoming defeat highlighted the weaknesses that have plagued the Red and Blue throughout the year.
On offense, the Quakers were unable to move the ball for much of the game. Glover and Robinson both received playing time at quarterback, but neither was able to gain any momentum against Harvard’s defense.
Glover was intercepted twice, and he overthrew junior running back Karekin Brooks on a key fourth-and-goal from the one yard line in the first half. Robinson did not have much success either, completing only one pass and fumbling the ball away twice in the second half to eliminate any chance of a Quaker comeback.
“They played really soft coverage, and they were very, very good up front on defense,” coach Ray Priore said. “When you have those type of turnovers in a game, no matter how good you are, no one can withstand that.”
These offensive struggles mirrored some of the problems that Penn has faced throughout the season. The Red and Blue have only been able to score more than 14 points once in Ivy League play, and going into Saturday they ranked 101st in the FCS in passing offense. After improved performances in the last two weeks, it appeared that the two-quarterback system would allow the Quakers to succeed, but the loss to Harvard proved that there is no sure-fire solution.
Penn’s defense has some significant issues to resolve as well. While the Quakers have been reasonably successful in limiting their opponents’ scoring in conference play, they have been susceptible to teams with strong rushing offenses. Against Dartmouth and Yale, the Red and Blue gave up 186 and 244 yards on the ground respectively, leading to sizable losses.
Harvard took advantage of this weakness, rushing for 159 yards in the first half alone. Running backs Aaron Shampklin and Charlie Booker gained first downs with ease early in the game, giving the Crimson a lead that they would never relinquish. The Quakers did lock down on the ground game in the second half, giving up only 56 rushing yards, but it was too late for the Red and Blue to make a comeback.
“We showed them a few different fronts,” senior linebacker Nick Miller said. “They have a few good backs and a lot of good players on their team. We just weren’t able to get the job done when we needed to.”
It isn’t all doom and gloom for Penn football. The team has made progress throughout the year, and until this week, it still had a chance to win the Ivy League title. However, for the Quakers to have success in next week’s season finale and into the future, they will have to shore up the problems they have faced not just this week, but all year.
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