PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Leaving for Rhode Island on Friday, Penn football missed most of the "Halloweekend" festivities this year, but it still got a chance to show off its costumes against Brown in the first half of Saturday’s game — Penn apparently dressed as a high school football team.
Jokes aside, while the first half of the game was a disaster, the resiliency that Penn displayed in the second half should keep all eyes on the team for the final three games of the season. Despite the 34-31 loss, the Red and Blue showed that it's still Ivy League champion material.
While it would be easy to assume that the Quakers wrote off Brown (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) as an easy opponent and lost because they did not take them seriously, that was simply not the case. Brown is a deceivingly good football team that presented a legitimately tough matchup for the Quakers — the team knew this going in and so did I, which is why I correctly predicted a three-point loss for Penn three days before the game.
Brown’s pass-first offense with a good quarterback at the helm was simply something the Quakers had not seen so far this season, so they were understandably flustered in the first half. Penn’s defensive backs struggled to cover and make open-field tackles in the first quarter, allowing Brown junior quarterback Jake Willcox to start a remarkable 14-15 through the air.
Willcox then exited the game with no apparent injury, and everyone in the press box thought that he had pulled a George Costanza and decided to leave on a high note. It turned out that he had a finger injury, but that didn’t matter because Brown’s backup, senior Aidan Gilman, played in his place and looked almost as good, finishing with 245 passing yards and two touchdowns.
While it’s not encouraging that Brown’s backup looked like the best passer in the Ivy League against Penn, what should make the Quakers feel better is that Brown coach James Perry noted postgame that Gilman nearly won the starting job this season.
What should make them feel even better is how the defense stepped up against Gilman in the second half. Facing a 24-7 halftime deficit, Penn mostly shut down Brown’s aerial attack, thanks in large part to a ferocious pass rush — the best I’ve personally ever seen from an Ivy League team in three years of covering the conference.
Perry agreed, calling Penn’s defensive line the best in the entire FCS.
While it took a half to get adjusted, the Red and Blue proved in this game that they can defend against a good passing team, and while they would have loved to win, this experience will be invaluable against key upcoming opponents like Princeton, which averages 265.6 passing yards per game.
Penn's offense also improved in the second half — not that it had much of a chance to get a rhythm in the first — taking advantage of all of the opportunities and good field position that Brown gave it, although it would have been nice to have seen some more long, sustained drives. While the last, potentially game-winning drive fell short, it could have easily been extended if not for a questionable non-targeting call to senior running back Jonathan Mulatu.
The team still isn’t perfect, but it could have easily won this game by double-digits if just two or three plays went differently.
Overall, though it would have been nice to get the win versus Brown, Penn can still claim the Ivy League championship if it wins its final three games of the season.
That is why — assuming the Quakers beat Cornell next week, which I think they will — I am urging all Penn students who were into this team at one point to remain passionate and attend the Quakers' final home game versus Harvard in two weeks.
This is Penn’s best season in a while, and you can feel it on campus. For once, people are talking about the team, posting about them on SideChat, and some even skipped Homecoming darties to make the trek to Franklin Field.
To anyone who has complained that we’re not a "football school," show up on Nov. 12. Fossil Free Penn won’t be disrupting this one. And if Penn beats Harvard, make the trip to Princeton for the de facto Ivy title, or watch it from home. This year’s team is one you won’t want to miss.
BRANDON PRIDE is a Wharton senior from Morgan Hill, Calif. studying finance who was a Senior Sports Editor for the 137th Board of Editors. He can be reached at email@example.com.