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Now-junior quarterback Aidan Sayin attempts a pass during last season's game against Princeton on Nov. 19, 2022. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Last November, 7-2 Penn football made the 45-minute trek north to face its bitter rivals, 8-1 Princeton, as 14.5-point underdogs. The Red and Blue had just suffered a sizable defeat to Harvard at home, all but ending their Ivy League Title hopes. Princeton, on the other hand, was seeking to capture its third Ancient Eight crown in four seasons. Despite the spread and pregame predictions, Penn proved to be no pushover, playing for its pride as the team marched 72 yards down the field to score a game-winning touchdown. Although the Quakers themselves could not secure a piece of the Ivy Title, as Yale defeated Harvard the same day, they found their joy in preventing their archenemy from having one, too. 

Fast forward nearly one year later, and both programs are playing for the same thing: pride. Neither of their 2023 campaigns has gone the way they've hoped. For Penn (6-3, 3-3 Ivy), lofty preseason hopes of their first conference title in seven years were completely extinguished in a gut-wrenching 25-23 defeat at Harvard last Saturday. The Tigers (4-5, 3-3) share a similar story, as they, too, suffered close losses to Brown and Dartmouth, and lost their title hopes in an overtime 36-28 loss to Yale last week. Both teams are 3-3 in conference play, but the chance to end their rival’s season with a loss will undoubtedly be the driving force of their play Saturday afternoon.

The game will likely come down to which team wins in the trenches. Princeton currently boasts the top-ranked scoring defense in the Ivy League, only conceding 16.8 points per game, and are strong in defending both the pass and the run. The Tigers are allowing a league-leading 91.4 rushing yards per game, but Penn is second best, at 100.8. However, the Quakers’ ground attack has proved very potent this season, averaging 186.5 yards per game against Cornell and Harvard, led by freshman running back Malachi Hosley, who totaled an impressive 109 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries last weekend in Cambridge, Mass. Penn will hope to follow the same blueprint as Yale last week, when the Bulldogs totaled 197 yards rushing on their way to victory. 

Princeton does not get much worse in the air either, as the team has allowed just under 190 passing yards per game, second in the Ivy League. This should be a matchup to follow, as junior quarterback Aidan Sayin is currently second in the conference with 2,475 passing yards and 13 touchdowns this year. The key to the aerial battle going the Red and Blue’s way will be the protection of the football. Sayin has already thrown eight interceptions this year, including one in Crimson territory last week that took away a potential scoring opportunity before halftime. Minimizing turnovers will be crucial to maximizing points for Penn against Princeton’s stingy defense. 

On the other side of the ball, Princeton’s offense has not caught up with its defense, ranking second-to-last in the league in scoring. While the Tigers had a good performance on the ground last week, that has proved to be the exception, as they have only been averaging just over 100 yards per game rushing. Penn did an excellent job of shutting down Princeton’s run game last year, and will look to have a repeat performance this season. 

While Princeton’s pass game still remains solid, quarterback Blake Stenstrom has still struggled to adjust this year after losing star wide receiver Andrei Iosivas to the Cincinnati Bengals — completing 10% fewer of his attempts and throwing for 700 yards less. While Penn’s defense overall has not been at its best this year, the Quakers have proved in earlier games this season they can slow down a high-scoring offensive attack, holding Harvard and Yale to several points below their season average. They will certainly look to do the same this weekend.