A big game in the Big Apple.
After evening up its overall record last Saturday with a win over Sacred Heart, Penn football looks to do the same with the Ivy portion of its schedule when the team travels to New York this weekend to take on Columbia.
The Lions (1-3, 0-1 Ivy) have lost three straight after opening their season with a win, but their record isn’t necessarily indicative of their quality. All three losses have been in tight, low-scoring affairs. Needless to say, this record-outcome imbalance has not gone unnoticed by Penn coach Ray Priore.
“Columbia is a good football team,” he said. “They play very, very good defense, and their special teams have been a real weapon for them… They’ve been in some tight games and had a real good chance to win all of them.”
The Quakers (2-2, 0-1) might also be a better team than their record would indicate, especially if the offensive mojo they found in their last game carries over into the rest of the season.
As has been the case for the last couple of seasons, everything starts with running back Karekin Brooks. The senior standout continued his assault on the record books last weekend, accumulating 178 rushing yards and four touchdowns. With 32 more yards against the Lions, he would climb to fourth on Penn’s all-time rushing list.
However, for Brooks, wins are much more important than accolades.
“It’s all wins and losses at this point,” Brooks said. “That’s the only thing that matters. At the end of the year, we can look at all of the other stuff, but for right now, all I care about is beating Columbia."
Still, the accolades are undoubtedly impressive, even though Priore isn’t surprised by the player Brooks has become.
“He is a hard, hard worker,” Priore said. “He is the first one in that weight room and the last one to leave the training room. His preparation, both mentally and physically, is there. So you could really see him, from his freshman and sophomore year, take those steps and grow and grow and grow.”
Although Brooks is the offensive star, he is by no means alone on that side of the ball, as senior quarterback Nick Robinson threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns last weekend. Most impressively, he hasn’t thrown an interception since the season opener. If he can continue that level of play against the Lions, the Columbia defense will be hard pressed to get the Penn offense off the field.
“[Robinson’s] been balling out. He knows the game really well, he’s a great leader on the field, and he’s tough,” Brooks said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to go out there and get the win. He’ll put his body on the line for the rest of the team, which means even more coming from the quarterback.”
The less glamorous side of the ball will be equally important this weekend. Through four games, the Quakers have yet to hold an opponent under 24 points, while the Lions offense has only bested 24 once. One of those trends will have to break this Saturday.
For Priore, it all comes down to discipline.
“Defense is like anything else — you can’t flinch,” Priore said. “If you have a gap, you have that gap. If you have a man, you have that man. Where problems typically happen on defense is when you flinch. … Perfect plays on both sides of the football really require great discipline.”
If the Quakers execute just a few more of those perfect plays this weekend, Columbia and the rest of the Ivy League could be in serious trouble.
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