I’m going to try and put something together that I could hope rationalize a historic loss for this program. This season has so much promise, but that thing called the injury bug is rearing its ugly head. The season isn’t proverbially over yet, but does this certainly feel like a tough loss to bounce back from.
As I was sitting down enjoying the beginning of a game in which I thought would be a blowout, a game in which I thought new quarterback Zack Bednarczyk would solidify his role as a starter, and a game where the fans would be loud in a packed stadium. Some idiot decided to puke all over the row of girls in front of him. Little did I know this would be an omen for the upcoming game.
This game shouldn’t have even been close. As my fellow co-writer, Jesse Hatton, mentioned several times the past week, Penn hasn’t beaten the ‘Cats since pre-World War I. Villanova was ranked fifth in the polls, while Penn is just middling in mediocrity in the Ivy League. Even with Villaova struggling against rival Delaware last weekend, a game at home against a significantly weak team should favor the more talented team. As we all know that wasn’t the case.
One of the biggest issues was the offense, more specifically the offensive line. All things considered the line as a group did not play that bad. Considering Andy Talley was forced to move a tight end to left tackle and a guard to center, due to injury, it was easy to see the problem from a mile away. Given the short week to get ready, it was more evident. Bednarczyk had barely any time to throw. Any quarterback will begin to panic when given little to no time to react and read the play, let alone a redshirt freshman, and his performance suffered from it. The run game also suffered, rushing for just under 100 yards in the game. That being said, the line did come together toward the end, in the second to final drive that gave the ‘Cats hope at the end. This line is one of the best in the nation when fully healthy, but the injury bug has struck and now the team has to deal with it to the best of its abilities. That’s just the nature of football.
Next, let’s examine the most the important stat of this game – time of possession. This was more important than the play of the offensive line. It was more important than the play of the new quarterback. Villanova’s defense played great and did all they could to stop a tough, bruising run game of Penn. However, Penn had the ball for 67-percent (40 minutes) of the game. How can Villanova’s offense get in any type of groove when they don’t have the ball? Penn got a bunch of cheap first down’s too. It was almost reminiscent of the three yards and cloud of dust offense. It felt as if they were always on third-and-short during every drive and they would convert it. It took the air out of the stadium and it took the air out of the Villanova sideline. On top of rumbling for a few yards a clip each play, Penn would let the play clock wind down to the last possible second. It’s annoying to watch as a spectator, but it’s the best plan to stop such a potent Villanova offense. The Quakers executed it perfectly and I tip my hat to them. Their passing game wasn’t too shabby either. Outside of the one redzone pick by Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen, he played a near perfect game. In the event the running game didn’t gain the necessary yardage, Torgersen wasn’t afraid to air it out. It was apparent from the first drive after throwing a dime for a touchdown for the game’s opening score.
Those were my two biggest problems with this game. The funny thing was that Villanova still had a shot to comeback and win this game late in the fourth after Penn started losing its momentum. Penn couldn’t finish off Villanova. The ‘Cats had ample time to drive down the field and try to cut into the lead to make it a one score game. However, a Villanova fumble on the five-yard line was returned for a Penn touchdown, putting in the finishing blow. From where I watched, it looked like he was down, but what do I know. It was a frustrating game to watch. I can only imagine what Talley and the rest of the team were feeling.
Some positives? Well, the kicking game wasn’t a factor so that’s a plus. It was interesting to see Gerard Smith get his first kick in as a Wildcat, replacing Steve Weyler on extra points. I thought the line came together, as I mentioned earlier, toward the end and gave Bednarczyk some time to work. Bednarczyk himself also showed sign of improvement and adjusted fairly well, especially in the fourth, keeping the passes short and emphasizing the runs after the catch. And despite the great run game of Penn they did only average 2.7 yards a carry, so the defense can use that as a positive stepping stone towards next week.
Give this team time to adjust. Players are being shifted all over being forced into new roles that they couldn’t even had begun to imagine they’d be in at the start of the season. A short week game against a rival after losing a star quarterback and two stud offensive linemen was just asking for trouble. I blame the pope. It’s ok guys, if there is one coach in the country to have the team succeed in the next man up mentality, it is Andy Talley.