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10-1-2021-football-vs-dartmouth-jaden-key-anna-vazhaeparambil
Junior Jaden Key makes a tackle against Dartmouth on Oct 1. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Two years ago, the Penn faithful watched the Quakers lose their Ivy League and home opener to Dartmouth in a 28-15 contest that was not nearly as close as the final score suggested.

Despite mostly holding a normally prolific Dartmouth offense in check, the Quakers, donning all-red, 1970s-throwback uniforms, were unable to stop a Big Green team that would roll through Ivy play on its way to capturing the conference crown.  

Tonight, Penn had the chance to flip the script on a Dartmouth team that entered 2021 looking just as complete on both sides on the ball as they were two seasons ago. The result of the game, however, was the same, and the only difference between these two matchups was the uniform that Penn sported. 

The Quakers entered Friday night needing to play a complete game on both sides of the ball. To hang with a Dartmouth team that was better on paper and favored to win by a touchdown, Penn had to play mistake free. 

Penn’s hopes of playing mistake-free football were quickly dashed when Dartmouth blocked a Quaker punt and returned it for the game’s opening touchdown. It looked like Penn was going to be able to overcome its early mistakes when quarterback John Quinnelly connected with Ryan Cragun for a 73-yard pass on Penn’s second drive. Isaiah Malcome followed up the big play with a seven-yard touchdown run, and the Red and Blue knotted the score at 7. 

In the second quarter, Dartmouth ran away with the game, scoring 17 unanswered points on its way to take a 24-7 lead heading into the half. The Big Green’s offensive attack was fueled by the efforts of senior running back Zack Bair and backup quarterback Nick Howard, who tallied 101 yards running read option specialty packages throughout the game. Bair routinely ripped off chunk running plays against the Quaker defensive front, finishing the game averaging 7.0 yards per rush and totaling 91 yards. 

The Quakers’ defense also had their hands full with a Big Green passing attack led by veteran quarterback Derek Kyler, who entered the game leading the FCS in both passer efficiency rating and completion percentage. 

All things considered, Penn’s defense delivered and did what it needed to do to put the Quakers in a position to compete. Aside from a third-quarter Howard fumble at the goal line, Dartmouth executed its offense flawlessly, with both the passing and running games firing on all cylinders.

Dartmouth is no run-of-the-mill opponent; the Big Green are among the favorites to win the Ivy League this season, and they have made quick work of their other opponents so far. 

As was the case in 2019, the Quaker defense was not the primary issue in another lopsided loss to Dartmouth. Instead, it was a stagnant offensive attack that plagued Penn. The Red and Blue showed flashes of offensive brilliance, but ultimately could not put together enough plays to sustain drives. The Quakers punted seven times and mustered only 141 total yards to Dartmouth's 413. 

A week ago, miscues and a lack of offensive production helped a 0-3 Lafayette team upset the Quakers. This week, the same issues allowed Dartmouth to roll past Penn in a nationally televised game under the lights at Franklin Field. 

The solution for the Quakers’ offensive woes is unclear this early in the season. At first glance, this is an experienced Penn team that should operate with the confidence that Kyler and Bair lead Dartmouth’s offense with. However, a closer look reveals that despite the upperclassmen status of key playmakers like Quinnelly and Malcome, many of Penn’s players have limited game experience. 

When these players eventually gain the experience that one can only get by playing a full season of Ivy League football, it will be too late for the Red and Blue to reap the rewards. Quinnelly and Malcome will graduate, and Penn will once again look to replace these important offensive positions with newcomers that have never seen the field before. 

The Ivy League season is short, and every game counts in pursuit of a title. Games like tonight are critical in separating which teams are middle of the pack and which are contenders. In the young season, Penn has shown flashes of greatness and has had moments where they almost look like as much of a contender as Dartmouth. But, unfortunately for Quaker Nation, these flashes have not been regular enough to lead to continued success, leaving Penn on the outside looking in.

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