Now that’s what we’ve been Sayin.
Penn football’s (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) 45-17 dominant victory over Brown (2-5, 1-3) was a joy to watch. The Quakers thrived in key moments of the game, and overall played a much cleaner game than the team has in earlier points in the season.
But, we should also be careful not to overreact to a blowout of a Bears team that has allowed 40+ points for five out of seven contests this season.
A 1-3 conference record in a top-heavy Ivy League conference puts Penn in an impossible spot (four games behind Princeton with three games left), and the team likely knows it isn’t capable of a conference title this year.
Perhaps knowing that the rest of this season will be dedicated to experimentation and preparation for next season takes the burden off the Red and Blue.
Nonetheless, the Quakers’ aggressive play-calling, explosive runs, and timely plays on defense exhibited the team’s recent growth from week-to-week, as well as promising signs for the future.
In his second career start for Penn, freshman quarterback Aidan Sayin was superb, playing the perfect role for the Quakers’ offense. On the Red and Blue’s opening drive, Sayin commanded the Quakers to an eight-play touchdown drive capped off by a wide-open catch by wide receiver Ryan Cragun.
The drive was dynamic, as the offense fluidly alternated between chunk pass plays on first down — and much more play-action than we are accustomed to — and nifty, burst runs from running backs Isaiah Malcome and Trey Flowers.
Although Brown won the possession battle against Penn 35 minutes to 24 minutes and out-gained the Quakers 411 yards to 296 yards, the game was decided by a number of key plays made by both Penn’s offense and defense.
A combined three turnovers — including linebacker Garrett Morris’ 42-yard house-call on a pick-six of veteran quarterback EJ Perry — and a season-high eight sacks allowed Penn to capitalize on short fields.
Although Brown drove into Penn territory multiple times, the defense — led by experienced linebacker Brian O’Neill, who accounted for a team-high 12 tackles — stymied the Bears on its side of the field. By the time the first half closed, Penn climbed to a safe position with a 31-10, after only allowing a first-drive touchdown and a long field goal.
With freshman Sayin at the helm, the Quakers may have a real chance to compete in the Ivy League within one or two years, and the team should use the remainder of the season as a chance to build chemistry, experiment, and learn specifically what schemes Sayin excels in.
Joshua Casilli hasn’t had much opportunity to break-out, given the packed wide receiving corps of upperclassmen Cragun and Rory Starkey, Jr., but catching his first career touchdown pass this past weekend may end up being the first of several connections between Sayin and him.
I prefaced this column by reminding readers that opponents do matter, and this Brown team is not the cream of the crop of the Ivy League, making a 45-17 blowout a little less meaningful than it seems on paper.
Penn has a chance to start a winning streak in its homecoming showdown with Cornell this upcoming weekend, after which the Red and Blue will face stiff tests in Harvard and Princeton — sitting at number two and number one in the Ancient Eight, respectively.
These games will present opportunities for the Quakers, not necessarily to capture victories, but to establish habits, get comfortable with pressure moments, and play with grit and heart for 60 minutes straight.
I am especially keen on Sayin and on Penn’s defense, both of which will determine how the team fares against its tougher opponents to close out the season. If the offense is able to protect and control the ball, allowing its defense to do what it does best — make impact plays — and grant the offense short fields, then Penn will have a real shot to steal either of these games.
It won’t be easy to win either of these season closers or land near the top of the Ivy League next season, but Penn football might just have a recipe for next fall with a chance to improve the ingredients in the meantime.