Now it’s time to make a statement.
After two dramatic home wins, Penn football will travel north to take on Harvard in a game where the Quakers will get the chance to prove they have fully bounced back from their 0-3 start to conference play.
“I think it starts with leadership from our seniors,” coach Ray Priore said. “We’ve all faced tough times, it’s how you react to those tough times that is a true sign of character.”
Despite the wins, the Quakers (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) have not yet proven themselves against top competition, as their two Ivy victories came in nail-biting fashion over the two worst teams in the League.
First, the Red and Blue needed a last-second field goal from sophomore kicker Daniel Karrash to get by Brown (1-7, 0-5) and last week, Penn defended Cornell’s (2-6, 1-4) game–winning two-point conversion attempt to secure the 21-20 win.
“We’ve had close games in six out of our eight games this year,” Priore said. “We talk about finishing, playing the first snap to the last snap because you never know which play is going to decide the game.”
“Coach always preaches, 'Finish, finish, finish',” senior running back Karekin Brooks said. “When it gets close, Coach is yelling "finish" and everybody is locked and loaded and ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
Unfortunately for the Red and Blue, their winning streak is also marred by the return of the team’s quarterback controversy. When injuries forced senior Nick Robinson to leave the game against Cornell, junior Ryan Glover, last season’s starter, filled in and completed five of his six pass attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown.
“Nick will be the starter,” Priore said. “We go into every game trying to put our players in the best position to succeed. We’ve gone into the last couple of games with the mindset of playing Ryan some of the time to focus on the skillset he has.”
Another question still left unanswered for the Red and Blue is whether the defense is going to bounce back. After surrendering over 35 points and 400 yards in each of their previous three games, the Quakers still struggled to prevent yards against the Big Red, allowing 434 yards of total offense. Thanks to timely stops and turnovers, Cornell was contained to just 20 points.
“We had a great goal-line stand, that stand on the two-point conversion was really a statement for them,” Priore said.
“Although we’ve given up a lot of yards and a lot of big plays we’ve found a way to finish recently,” senior defensive back Tayte Doddy said.
Despite these challenges, the Quakers get an opportunity this weekend to put their winning streak on the line against struggling Harvard (4-4, 2-3), who after starting conference play 2-0 has dropped their last three Ivy contests.
Despite the recent poor form of the Crimson, they have impressed all season on the defensive end, allowing a second-best 17 points per game in conference play so far. The contest should prove to be an especially large challenge for Penn’s offensive leader, Brooks, as Harvard boasts the League's best rush defense.
“I just need to trust my offensive line and wide receivers to block and give me the holes I need,” Brooks said.
On offense, the Crimson’s recipe for success is simple: throw the ball as little as possible. Harvard has the second–lowest number of passing attempts in the conference; however, when junior Jake Smith does air it out, he has found great success, completing 63% of his passes, good for second-best in the Ivy League while pushing the ball downfield for a League-best eight yards per attempt. The star of the show on offense is junior running back Devin Darrington who is second in the Ivy League in rushing yards, averaging 85 yards per game.
“They have a strong, powerful, fast back and they have two good tight ends who they like to use in the passing and running game,” Doddy said.
Now that Penn football is finally back on track after a rough start to Ivy League play, it’s time to see if they can keep it going against a more challenging opponent.