Fortunately for Penn football, this game won’t be played on paper.
The Quakers will travel to Princeton on Saturday for their season finale as major underdogs. The Red and Blue (6-3, 3-3 Ivy) struggled last week in a 29-7 Homecoming loss to Harvard, while the Tigers (9-0, 6-0) kept their undefeated record intact in a 59-43 shootout against Yale.
Those divergent results illustrate the difficult task ahead for Penn. They might not be the favorites, but the Quakers are optimistic that they will be up to the challenge.
“I feel very confident,” sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to grow as a team and catapult us into the next season.”
The stats, however, tell a different story. Princeton has been dominant this season on both offense and defense, winning six of its games by 35 points or more. The Tigers rank in the top two in the Ivy League in passing offense, passing defense, rushing offense, and rushing defense.
Senior quarterback John Lovett has been a bright spot for the Orange and Black all year. The 2016 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year has been a dual threat, throwing 15 touchdowns against only two interceptions in the air and gaining an average of 96.4 yards per game on the ground.
The Tigers have had an extremely strong rushing offense overall this season. They ran for an impressive 489 yards against Yale last week and have averaged 295.4 yards and 4.1 touchdowns per game on the year.
That could pose a problem for the Quakers, who have struggled to stop the run at times. Penn gave up 244 yards on the ground in its October matchup against Yale and 159 yards against Harvard in the first half alone. The Red and Blue are looking to shore up their fundamentals in order to have a stronger defensive performance this week.
“Defending the run is all about discipline and making sure you know what to do,” coach Ray Priore said. “You don’t try to outscheme [teams like Princeton]. If you try to guess, if you try to do things that are too crazy, you open big gaps and holes.”
Princeton’s defense has also been impressive this year, limiting seven of its nine opponents to 10 points or fewer. The Tigers have achieved that success in large part due to 19 forced turnovers, ranking second in the Ivy League behind Dartmouth. However, they did show some vulnerability last week, giving up 43 points and 465 passing yards to a talented Yale offense.
Penn has some work to do if it wants to match the Bulldogs’ success. The Quakers have committed 14 turnovers this season, with four coming in last week’s loss to Harvard. In addition, the Red and Blue have struggled through the air, ranking seventh in the Ivy League in passing offense with an average of only 167.6 yards per game.
The numbers might not look promising, but the team is looking to end the season on a high note.
“We love our seniors and we want nothing more than to send them off with a good taste in their mouth about the season and about their career,” Glover said.
Despite that, the Red and Blue are still approaching Saturday’s game like any other.
“The only message is we want to win. In everything we do, we want to be successful,” Priore said. “If you have that mindset in everything you do in life, you will be good in everything: school, work, and the game on Saturday.”
The Quakers hope that mindset will lead them to victory against the odds.