Penn football (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) couldn’t live up to its potential under the Friday night lights of Franklin Field last week, losing to Brown in a tight 30-26 competition that was headlined by three interceptions from junior quarterback Aidan Sayin. Now sitting at 2-2 in the Ivy League, locked in a five-way tie for second place, the margins for error are small. Correction, there is absolutely no margin for error anymore.
Next up is a team that also finds itself in a position where there is no longer any margin for error: Cornell (3-4, 2-2).
In order for either team to secure a share of the Ivy crown, they must close out conference play with three straight wins. As a result, whichever team doesn’t walk away from this match-up victorious will be effectively eliminated from title contention. For a Penn team that is loaded with offensive and defensive talent, walking away from this season empty-handed would be considered a tragedy.
After a disappointing loss last weekend, the Red and Blue will be looking to get its season back on track in its Homecoming game in front of what will most likely be their largest crowd of the year. The last time that Penn beat Cornell at Franklin Field was in 2019, although Penn does have the upper hand in the all-time series with a record of 76-47-5 against the Big Red.
Cutting down on the turnovers will be a major point of emphasis heading into this matchup. Even with the three interceptions against Brown, Sayin threw for over three hundred yards for the fourth time this season. While the interceptions cost the team dearly, especially at the end when the turnover occurred in the red zone, Sayin’s gunslinging approach to the game this season has also been a major reason for the team’s success. Sayin, who currently has the fourth most career passing yards in program history, is just 166 yards shy of passing Mike Mitchell for third in the record books. This will most likely be achieved this weekend.
The emergence of sophomore wide receiver Jared Richardson with a team-leading 623 receiving yards and five touchdowns should help Sayin out on this front. As the current leader in all of the FCS in receptions per game facing off against a Cornell pass defense that ranks in the bottom half of the Ivy League, Richardson will be hungry to attempt to break the program's single-season receptions record currently held by Justin Watson at 89 after already setting the program record for the most receptions in a game earlier this season.
Even after a down week playing against a solid Brown passing attack, Penn’s defensive unit is still one of the best in the conference. On paper, the Quakers should be able to handle a Cornell offense that ranks in the bottom half of the league for both rushing and passing.
However, Cornell will not be an easy team to beat. The Big Red have played the Red and Blue quite a number of times, enough to make it the fifth most played-out matchup in Division I football with this Saturday's contest marking the teams’ 129th face-off. Furthermore, Cornell is equally alive in the hunt for Ivy League glory, meaning that the team will be as hungry as Penn to leave Franklin Field with a win.
This game will come down to which team has the most players who can step up in the biggest moments, under the most pressure, with their teams' respective seasons on the line. For Cornell, the key will be to get the offense going against a stout Penn defensive unit early in the game. For Penn, the key to winning will be to limit the number of mistakes. With both teams currently at the point of no error, the team that makes the first mistake will most likely see its championship hopes end.
During halftime, Penn football will be celebrating five of its championship-winning teams with players from the 1983, 1988, 1993, and 2003 teams in attendance. Taking the field this Saturday at 1:00 p.m., this year’s team will have the ability to be one step closer to joining their fellow alumni in the program's history books.