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Junior quarterback Aidan Sayin threw three interceptions during the game against Brown on Oct. 27. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

On Friday night, when Penn football’s fourth-quarter comeback effort fell short in a 30-26 loss to Brown, the immediate effects were clear: An addition to the loss column, a balancing of Penn’s Ivy League record at 2-2, and a significant deflation of the team’s Ivy League title hopes. But lost among those surface-level consequences was a much deeper concern: that the 2023 Penn football team may never reach its full potential.

After seven hard-fought contests, the Quakers stand at 5-2, an undeniably excellent record that many lesser teams would kill for. But for the Red and Blue, it comes with a twinge of disappointment. Despite the evident level of talent on the roster, Penn’s two conference losses leave them on the outside looking in on the race for the conference title; they will likely need to win out to secure even a share of the crown.

The first of those losses came in the Ivy season opener against Dartmouth, when a trio of turnovers and a bevy of unforced errors spoiled an otherwise solid performance, resulting in a 23-20 overtime loss. Friday was a different day, but a painfully similar story. Junior quarterback Aidan Sayin’s three interceptions, the last of which came in the end zone on a potential game-winning drive, were the deciding factor in a game where Penn was clearly the better team, but lacked the polish necessary to pull out a win.

There were several drives over the course of Friday’s loss when the real Quakers came to play – at the end of the first half, Sayin orchestrated a seven-play, 75 -yard touchdown drive that included a 36-yard scamper from the signal-caller, bringing the Red and Blue within three before halftime. The game-sealing interception was preceded by a drive of similar quality, with Sayin dialing up multiple completions of over 20 yards before stalling in the red zone and forcing an ill-fated pass to sophomore wide receiver Jared Richardson.

It is unfair to put Penn’s loss entirely on Sayin – the Red and Blue offense placed a tremendous burden on his shoulders by making him attempt 55 passes, and his 322 passing yards were what kept the Quakers in the game. Rather, his costly lapses are indicative of a greater problem: the team’s overall struggle to put together an effort worthy of their talent level.

Though the Quaker defense entered the week with the second-fewest passing yards allowed in the Ancient Eight, they struggled mightily against Brown’s conference-leading air attack. Bears quarterback Jake Willcox completed 70% of his passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, and Brown did not commit a single turnover. 

But, like Sayin, the defense showed flashes of greatness throughout the losing effort. The Bears managed just one first down following Penn turnovers, and the Quaker front shut Brown out in the fourth quarter, leaving the door open for a comeback that ultimately did not materialize.

The Red and Blue have had games this season where everything has come together. Most notably, their 27-17 victory against defending Ivy champion Yale just last week was a perfect example of who Penn can be when firing on all cylinders: a high-flying offense, a suffocating defense, a complete group. But in order to be truly great, a team must be consistently great. To this point, Penn has not shown that capability.

And while there are still three games left on the schedule for Penn to right the ship, there’s a chance their wake-up window has passed. Three straight victories would leave the Quakers with a 5-2 Ivy League record, the same as a year ago, and likely not enough for sole possession of an Ancient Eight title. It would mark a solid finish, but not the one the Quakers had in mind in September, and certainly not the best one they are capable of.

To this point, the 2023 Penn football season has been a story of wasted potential. The Quakers’ talent has been evident at every turn, but so has their inability to put all the pieces together. In the literal sense, there is still time for the Red and Blue to reach their ceiling. But in the Ivy League title sense, it may already be too late. 

WALKER CARNATHAN is a sophomore and current deputy sports editor studying English from Harrisburg, Pa. All comments should be directed to