If there was one play that could encapsulate Penn football’s season, it would be the very first play after kickoff of their game at Harvard on Saturday.
Lined up in the shotgun on the Quakers’ own 25-yard line, freshman quarterback Aidan Sayin took the snap as senior wideout Owen Goldsberry came running in from the left side of the formation. Sayin handed the ball off to Goldsberry, who looked like he was going to keep running toward the right sideline, until he pitched the ball back to Sayin.
With the bulk of Harvard’s defensive unit positioned toward the right side of the field to try and tackle Goldsberry, sophomore wide receiver Joshua Casilli appeared wide open past the 45-yard line on the left side, and Sayin launched a well-placed ball to get it to him.
Casilli, with the sun glaring in his eyes, then proceeded to drop the ball in such a way that it deflected perfectly into Harvard safety James Herring’s hands for an interception. It was a cruel twist of fate for the Red and Blue, who clearly planned to start their matchup against the Crimson with a big trick play, and ended up with Harvard obtaining possession in Quaker territory.
There were a lot of factors that went right for Penn on that play, from the solid play design that allowed for a wide open receiver more than 20 yards down the field, to the faking out of the notably proficient Harvard defense, to the impressive throw by Sayin, who was playing in just his fourth career start. But in the end, one crucial error not only wasted a trick play, but led to Penn losing the ball early.
Much of the season has been this way for the Quakers, with elements of their offensive and defensive units showing promise, only for other parts of the team to let them down. Whether it be a 42-28 loss at Yale in which the defense had no answers for the Bulldogs’ attack or a 15-12 Homecoming loss to Cornell in which the offense had zero touchdown drives, Penn football just hasn’t managed to be in sync for an extended period at any point during this season. And with just one game left, I don’t think that that period will come anytime soon.
Against Harvard, a decent amount went right for the Quakers. Penn’s defense held strong in crucial moments, holding Harvard to four field goals inside the 25-yard line (one blocked) that prevented game-shifting touchdowns. Additionally, the defensive line was effective throughout at getting pressure on Harvard quarterback Luke Emge and stifling the Crimson running game.
On the other hand, however, Penn failed to win the turnover battle, with the first play interception being followed by a Sayin fumble and another two interceptions, one coming from a Harvard linebacker who manhandled the ball away from a Quaker receiver. Outside of a few big plays, the Quaker offense consistently struggled to get anything going, leading to six punts, which was a large reason for their measly seven-point output all game.
Boiling it down to a single sentence, I’d say that the offense wasn’t nearly good enough to complement the defense, which played solidly all game. And that’s the problem. Parts of the team thrive, while other aspects aren’t able to compete with the opposing unit.
It’s been this way for the bulk of the season, and without any kind of consistent play across the board, losses to teams that Penn usually beats (the Quakers had won their last three games at Harvard) aren’t really as surprising as they should be.
It’s too early for me, or anyone else, to say whether or not the trends we saw in this game will continue into next season. After a year in which Penn will finish with a 2-5 conference record at best (more likely, 1-6), there will probably be some overhaul in different areas of the team.
If those changes are to be of any success, though, they have to address the inconsistent elements of this program that cause losses like the one we saw this week against yet another Ivy League foe.
MATTHEW FRANK is a College sophomore from Miami studying communications and is a Deputy Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.