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Penn football's defensive line against Dartmouth on Sept. 30. Credit: Ethan Young

Through the first five games of the season, Penn football (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) has proven itself as a formidable force on the defensive front as the Red and Blue's prowess in defending against the run is nothing short of commendable. Currently, with two forced fumbles, and with their 87.8 rush yards per game the second-fewest in the Ivy League and seventh in all of FCS, the Quakers' run defense is a force to be reckoned with. 

Last week against Columbia, the Quakers' defensive line displayed an unprecedented level of dominance, effectively turning the entire 60-minute game into a relentless ordeal for the opposing quarterback. With unwavering determination, they controlled the line of scrimmage, leaving Columbia’s quarterback with little room to breathe, let alone execute plays, and their runners with few lanes to get downfield.  

This consistency in stopping the run owes its success to the seasoned starters, who bring a wealth of experience to their positions within the Quakers' defensive box.

“Each player on the team really knows their role, [and with] having older veteran guys, pretty trustworthy guys across the defensive line really lets us play to the best of our ability knowing that the teammate next to you is going to have your back,” senior defensive lineman Jack Planck said. Furthermore, their success in run defense can be attributed to their “cohesiveness" on the field.

 Junior defensive lineman Paul Jennings expressed the same sentiment, firmly believing that there are “a lot of experienced, talented guys on the defensive front," he said. Additionally, "having trust [that] the guy next to you is doing their job gives you what you need to do your job, and helps us play as a unit.” 

Their success in the defensive box is attributed to skilled players, as well as the experienced coaching of defensive coordinator Bob Benson — in his eighth season — and defensive line coach Hank Hughes — in his fifth season. 

Despite the pair drawing up schemes for the players to execute on game day and teaching them some of the technical skills required to play the position, both claim that they don't provide as much of an impact as those actually on the roster.  

“I don’t believe it’s totally about the scheme as much as it is about players," Hughes said. "Coaches [are] vastly overrated compared to players. Our biggest strength in terms of the front is that we have veteran players that have played a lot of football there, and they’re good players and they’re good athletes, but also experienced. So, that’s been a big positive for us and them.”

"It’s all about the players," Benson added. "We have one of the top fronts in the country, ... and we just tried to keep it simple for them to make their own adjustments and play fast.”