A storm is brewing in Pennsylvania and its name is the Quakers.
On a rainy Saturday across the state, Penn (2-0) travelled out to Lewisburg to take on Bucknell (1-2) coming off the heels of its season opener win over Colgate. The Red and Blue picked up right where they left off, with a fast-paced offense that accumulated over 500 yards and a smothering defense that secured a 37-21 victory.
On the offensive end, junior quarterback Aidan Sayin had another big day. He looked comfortable from the start despite the rain coming down on him early on and utilized over 12 receivers — particularly sophomore wide receiver Jared Richardson — who hauled in 12 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
“Chemistry has been great," Sayin said. "We've been building it a lot with these young receivers — we’re playing a lot of sophomores and a few freshmen. Just getting reps with them and the chemistry’s building for sure and you can see it on the field."
Sayin was not the only Quaker quarterback that found success, though. Sophomore Liam O’Brien not only got substantial snaps, but also scored his first career touchdown. After only appearing in last year's game against Harvard to attempt five passes, O’Brien has solidified himself as a legitimate rushing option after seeing a lot of action this game.
He starred in primarily fourth and short situations and, every time, rose to the occasion. In the third quarter, O’Brien completed the drive for Penn’s second touchdown of the game to put them up 17-0. Through his patience and key blocks from his linemen, O’Brien weaved his way into the endzone for his first career touchdown.
“He brings a whole different aspect to our offense," coach Ray Priore said. "He is very, very athletic with his feet, can really move. That dimension of the quarterback run is very special. So we’ve been building on that and just working on it week to week and that is something we’ll continue to grow."
Sophomore wide receiver Alex Haight also caught his first career touchdown, catching a short pass from Sayin and maneuvering by the sideline to narrowly get by the pylon for the score — the first of the day for Penn. In the third quarter, Richardson's pair of touchdowns brought the Quakers’ point total from 17 to 30 within just a few minutes.
“[Richardson is] just a dog," Sayin said of the burgeoning receiver. "He’s winning almost every route. Being able to have him as relief over there. Any time I need to get the ball up pretty much, he’s open so it’s good to have him out there."
The offensive line played an integral role in today’s success, with Sayin being protected in the pocket throughout the game. Bucknell — who had seven sacks last week — did not even pressure him until the third quarter. In addition, the o-line's blocks gave players like fifth-year senior running back Jonathan Mulatu — who had the fifth and final Quaker touchdown of the day off a carry — and sophomore Isaac Shabay great opportunities to run the football.
“I thought we blocked things better up front in our offensive lines and tight ends," Priore said. "We hit the creases. Really good explosiveness through the holes on a handful of plays."
Speaking of the line, the defensive line rained on Bucknell’s parade.
Throughout the first half, Penn did not let the Bucknell offense see the light of day. Bucknell only had one first down and 11 yards of offense throughout the first 30 minutes of play. Overall stats like those are thanks to moments like senior linebacker Jack Fairman completing a huge sack for a 15-yard loss on third down. The defense was smothering, finishing with two sacks on the game and keeping Bucknell to 20 rushing yards.
“Once again, our guys won the line of scrimmage. So much of the game of football is what you do on the line of scrimmage and our defensive line did a tremendous job with the linebackers blocking holes and stopping the runs,” Priore said. “We have to continue to work on some other things but I’m proud of how the kids worked.”
The defense was not that same indomitable wall in the second half, however. After Sayin’s second pick of the game, the Quakers gave up their first touchdown of the season, followed by two more before the final whistle. On special teams, the Quakers also had two kicks blocked — a point Priore stressed as an area for improvement.
“We just have to stick on the tangibles. We just have to focus and lock in, execute a little better. There’s points where we have good drives going and we don’t finish them. So we have to lock in and get that rolling, and then I think we’ll be a hard team to beat,” Richardson said, looking towards future games and improvements of the team.
While this Bucknell game is now a thing of the past, it is a testament to the identity of the Quakers this season: formidable defense, varied and deep offense. They will have to bring their best on both ends of the ball next week when they host their first game at venerable Franklin Field against the Dartmouth Big Green (1-1).