With half of the season already in the books, Penn (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) remains unbeaten. But staying that way will require one of this season’s toughest challenges to date: snapping a four-year losing streak to Yale (4-1, 2-0).
The Bulldogs' offense has been led by dual-threat quarterback Nolan Grooms. In the air, Grooms has been completing just over 60 percent of his passes, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, and has tallied five touchdowns to eight interceptions.
However, most of his havoc, and that of the Yale offense at large, comes on the ground. Grooms has 428 rushing yards this year, only 12 behind running back Trey Peterson. Yale’s rushing attack has averaged over 5.5 yards per carry on the season and notched 12 touchdowns.
“Not only is [Grooms] a quarterback that has a talented arm, he is a very, very effective runner with a ball in his hands,” Penn coach Ray Priore said.
The challenge of limiting the Yale offense that has put up nearly 30 points per game will fall onto a Penn defense standing second in the Ivy League in points allowed. Additionally, the Quaker defense has been stout against the run, a preseason priority of defensive coordinator Bob Benson.
“We're not just playing against 10 people, we’re playing against 11 and having an elusive quarterback always makes it a big challenge,” senior linebacker Garrett Morris said. “Focusing on what we do best and stopping the run … [is] going to be a big test.”
On the other side of the ball, Yale’s defense ranks around the middle of the Ivy League in most key metrics. The Bulldogs have held opponents to 21.6 points and 339 yards per game in the first half of the season.
Where the Bulldogs have excelled this season is in the air. Yale leads the conference with barely over 200 pass yards allowed per game, and its 6.3 yards per attempt is tied for second, behind only Princeton. On the other hand, their rush defense has been more suspect through the first five weeks, giving up nearly 140 yards per game and almost 4.5 yards per carry so far this year.
“They’re big, sound, [and] physical … on defense,” Priore said. “Their defensive front is … probably one of the better defensive fronts we’ll face all year.”
In the first five games of the 2022 campaign, sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin’s first year as a starter has been a huge driver behind the team’s success. The Quakers have been averaging over 30 points per game, enough for second in the Ivy League, and their 11 passing touchdowns lead the conference.
Last week against Columbia, Penn put up nearly 400 yards of total offense, led by 299 passing yards by Sayin, over half of which went to junior wideout Joshua Casilli
And this potent offense could be getting major pieces back in time for this weekend’s matchup. Both senior running back Trey Flowers, Penn’s leading rusher, and sophomore tight end Justin Cayenne missed last week’s game against Columbia due to injuries. But according to Priore, both of them have the chance to return against Yale.
“They’re both in a … probable world right now,” Priore said. “We’re hoping that they will be able to dress for the weekend.”
Despite the upcoming test, both Priore and Morris say that football’s hot streak has fueled a surge of positive emotions in the locker room. But the team is also taking care to remain focused.
“The biggest thing that some of the guys that have been here for a while want to do is to make sure everybody's focused each and every day,” Morris said. “Regardless of what our record is … [we’re] just trying to get 1% better and win the day."
The game will be at home at Franklin Field. Kickoff is at 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia or is available on streaming via ESPN+.