It goes without saying that junior quarterback Aidan Sayin has been vital to the rise of young stars like sophomore wide receiver Jared Richardson and freshman running back Malachi Hosley this season. But Sayin's play when the game matters the most, when the next point wins, has been nothing but abysmal. Looking at his season, he has thrown 13 touchdowns — third in the Ivy League — but his eight interceptions are also tied for the most in the conference.
In the Ivy League, the Quakers are ranked fourth in rushing and passing touchdowns. This middling play in the passing game is attributed to the man playing under center: Sayin. This mediocre passing game was evident throughout the Harvard game.
Even though the Crimson did blitz Sayin, the Red and Blue’s offensive line effectively held their ground in pass protection. However, Sayin's hastiness to sling the ball into tight coverage or even overthrowing his receiver may be the plays he looks back as game-defining, possibly changing the outcome. He must have patience, especially when he has time in the pocket, to make the right reads. Furthermore, his constant reliance on run-pass options and check-downs in order to move the chains is not going to give Penn the edge when it comes to clutch situations.
During the moments when the game counts the most, Sayin's decision-making is simply not there. This was evident during his interception against the Crimson — with his receiver in double coverage, Sayin threw the ball over the middle of the field directly to Harvard’s defensive back Damien Henderson. With all of the Quakers receivers tightly covered by the Crimson defense and with Sayin heavily pressured, he could have thrown the ball out of bounds. Had he thrown out of bounds, the Red and Blue would still have had the opportunity to score with plenty of time left on the clock, possibly cutting the deficit going into the second half. Mistakes like this are what cost them the game. The man under center needs to play better if the Quakers are hoping to find success next week.
The struggles extended beyond the offense, also encompassing the defense. Although they showed some effectiveness in the first quarter, the Quakers allowed Harvard to score two touchdowns in consecutive drives during the second quarter.
Penn's blitzing aggressiveness proved costly, allowing Harvard quarterback Jaden Craig to elude pressure effectively, flushing to either side of the field and generating significant positive yardage through rushing or finding open receivers.
And when Craig advanced past the Harvard offensive line, Penn's front missed tackling him. The Crimson capitalized on the rushing linebackers that left the middle of the field exposed, enabling easy yardage. Plus, Penn's defensive backs gave too much open space to Harvard’s wide receivers that bailed out Craig under times of pressure. This defense had a mixture of good and bad plays, but when the game depended on them to make the stops and force turnovers, they balled out, so kudos to the Quakers' defense.
Watching this game, the Quakers seemed to secure the victory after senior defensive back Lawson Nash intercepted Craig. But the offense could not deliver, with Penn's second overtime possession ending in a missed 36-yard field goal following three runs, and with the Quakers not scoring on their chance for a two-point conversion in third overtime.
In a heartbreaking two-point conversion overtime loss to Harvard, the "Crimson special" added a layer of disrespect, mimicking the Philly special of Super Bowl LII lore to secure the Ivy League title. Despite the outcome, I hope the Red and Blue will learn from their mistakes and be more motivated than ever next week against Princeton.
HUMZA ASIF is a sophomore and current sports reporter studying chemistry from Long Island, N.Y. All comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.