NEWARK, Del. — The game came down to one play. With 2:24 left in the fourth quarter, Penn football lined up from the Delaware two-yard line. If the Quakers could find the end zone, they would lead 29-28, giving a defense that had just come up with a big stop a chance to seal the win. If they failed, the Blue Hens would get the ball back, needing only one first down to ice the game.
While the result of that play, a pass from senior quarterback Nick Robinson that found the ground in front of his intended target, determined the final outcome, it shouldn’t define how Penn football is viewed after its season opener.
Instead, the fact that the Red and Blue were in that position, where a single play could give them a great chance at a win, should be viewed as a positive sign going into the rest of the year. Against Delaware, which is ranked ahead of any Ivy League team at No. 20 in the Football Championship Subdivision, the Quakers needed to fight for every inch as major underdogs coming into the contest.
And fight they did.
Penn’s new-look offense, with Robinson and first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Morris at the helm, was solid for much of the day. Senior running back Karekin Brooks was a workhorse, carrying the ball 28 times for 158 yards, and junior Isaiah Malcome came up with some big plays of his own, picking up a big 46-yard gain in the first half and returning a punt for a touchdown to set up the fateful two-point conversion attempt.
Robinson contributed to the effort as well, scrambling for some important first downs and connecting with sophomore wide receiver Ryan Cragun, who was playing in his first-ever collegiate game, for eight catches and 145 yards.
The Quakers’ defense was impressive for significant stretches as well. After allowing a touchdown on the very first drive of the game, Penn held Delaware scoreless for the rest of the first half, forcing several three-and-outs in the process. The Red and Blue were particularly strong upfront, producing three sacks and only allowing a total of 100 rushing yards.
Of course, the Quakers didn’t win, which means there are still areas where they can improve throughout the season. Penn’s passing game slowed down significantly in the second half — Robinson only threw for 64 yards in the final two quarters — and the team’s secondary let up some big plays through the air to allow Delaware to take the lead late.
In addition, the Red and Blue, who were supposed to have a more fast-paced offense than in previous seasons, didn’t appear to change their tempo much pre-snap. The players looked toward the sideline for instruction before many plays, and the team ultimately committed three delay of game penalties.
Despite that, there are still many more positives than negatives for Penn moving forward. As coach Ray Priore said after the game, the Quakers were “overmatched” physically, with zero athletic scholarship players to Delaware’s 65. But they fought, grinded, and played strategic football for most of the day to put themselves in a position to win.
The decision to go for two after Malcome’s punt return might be controversial, and it might deserve an entire column of its own, but that wasn’t really the defining moment of the day for the Red and Blue. The defining moments instead came on each completion, defensive stop, and big gain, which indicated that this team could compete with top-notch FCS competition and possibly exceed expectations when Ivy League play begins.
MICHAEL LANDAU is a Wharton junior from Scarsdale, N.Y. and a Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.