In its 100th matchup with Columbia, Penn football’s performance fell short and it amounted to a loss with a score of 23-14.
Despite last week’s big win against Lehigh, I didn’t come into Saturday’s game very optimistic about Penn's odds. While the Quakers did have an all-time winning record of 75-23-1 against the Lions, they have been unable to measure up against the Lions since 2015.
Additionally, based on the Quakers' (2-3, 0-2) game play in their previous four games, I knew that the offense needed to be less conservative with their play-calling, and I was also hoping to see more experimentation with switching players in the offense.
Penn should’ve known that this would not be an easy matchup and that it could not afford to make the same mistakes that it got away with last week against an easier opponent.
Fortunately for the Red and Blue, Columbia (4-1, 1-1) also made some mistakes, making this game much closer than it would have been otherwise. The Lions' two missed field goals made the game a one-score affair in the fourth quarter, but the Quakers failed to capitalize on this opportunity because they simply could not finish and get the ball down the field after the second quarter.
With the second quarter being the highest scoring one of the game for both teams with two touchdowns each, I found the Penn touchdowns to be especially interesting to watch because we saw more of sophomore Maurcus McDaniel, who is listed as a defensive back on the roster but played quarterback out of the shotgun, after senior quarterback John Quinnelly took a rough sack near the middle of the quarter.
We saw a little bit of McDaniel in last week’s game against Lehigh, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the Quakers were able to fully incorporate McDaniel’s rushing skills into their offensive strategy.
After the sack that hurt Quinnelly ended the drive, Penn recovered a muffed ball and McDaniel stepped in for Quinnelly. McDaniel as a rushing quarterback — along with running backs Isaiah Malcome, Trey Flowers, and Jonathan Mulatu — was able to surprise Columbia defense and rush five yards for a touchdown himself. This put Penn in the lead for the first and last time this game with a score of 7-3.
McDaniel has yet to throw a pass for the Quakers, but perhaps that is the next step.
In high school, McDaniel was a star quarterback who was a dynamic dual threat as a runner and a passer for the Episcopal Academy. He led his team to win the Inter-Ac Championships, and he himself earned Inter-Ac MVP. We have now seen that McDaniel is a threat as a runner, but we have yet to see some of his passing at a Penn game. I’m sure I, along with Quaker Nation, would love to see what more he can do along with other quarterbacks on the depth chart like sophomores Hugh Brady and Ryan Zanelli.
The next touchdown that Penn scored was their last, but a big part of it was a pass interference call in favor of the Quakers giving them a first down and 10 extra yards. While the call gave them the leverage that they needed, there were definitely mistakes in the drive. Quinnelly only completed two out of six pass attempts in the drive, and Malcome ultimately found a hole for a 30-yard run into the end zone.
The score at this point was 14-17, with Columbia’s touchdowns completed in eight seconds and one play, and 33 seconds and two plays, respectively. Here, we saw that the Lions were effective with their time, and this was where I started to get a little nervous about what the second half would look like.
On the defensive side, I definitely feel more confident in the team than I do the offense. During the game I did feel like they were psyched out a little after the targeting call against Prince Emili, and they allowed two touchdowns pretty much back to back in the second quarter, however they still minimized Columbia possession time in the first half.
Still, the defense came back from halftime unwilling to give up more points, and they did their best to keep the Lion offense off the field, but this doesn’t work if the offense cannot finish and get in the end zone. It also doesn’t work if the offensive line cannot cover for receivers or for the quarterback to give him enough time.
While Penn definitely showed its strength in running, a team cannot be successful solely on the ground. It makes the Quakers too predictable, especially when the other team can see that they are struggling with their passing.
In the second half, the Quakers were unable to get past the Columbia 35 and they punted all throughout the third quarter, not attempting to go for a fourth down until the fourth quarter and never attempting a field goal.
Because of this conservative play, they were unable to get anything done in either quarter. The defense was able to limit the Lions score to two field goals in this half, giving the Quakers a chance but they were still unsuccessful.
On Saturday, Quinnelly had a 24% completion rate with only 6 completed passes out of 25 attempts. This is the lowest his completion rate has been the whole season, with the lowest before being 40%.
Yes, it’s important that Penn continues to incorporate its rushing to open up space for Quinnelly or any other quarterback on the field, but they should be able to make sure that they can connect.
While this is definitely something that should be worked on with Quinnelly at practice this week with the upcoming five games against Ivy competitors, I think it’s time that Penn starts giving younger players more opportunities on the field.
Since 1983, no Ivy League Champion has lost more than one conference game, so with today’s loss against the Lions, the Red and Blue’s chances at an Ivy Championship are slimming.
I personally think that we may have to start shifting goals soon and start thinking about next season.
It would be much more beneficial for the Quakers and the program to use the remainder of the season to build up the team for next season.
I am confident that by giving their younger players experience on the field this season, they will be able to come back next year with a stronger set of skills, and Penn will have a more developed team from the get-go.
The next five games against Ivy League Yale, Brown, Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton will be difficult regardless of being more open to changes in the offense, but the team has nothing left to lose, and this is the perfect time to try new things, be less conservative, and experiment.
ANDREA MENDOZA is a College sophomore from Dallas studying International Relations.