In describing Yale’s 21-3 loss to the University of Pennsylvania Saturday — a game characterized by the Bulldogs’ inability to make the big play and Penn’s ability to do just that — an old cliche seems most appropriate: football is a game of inches.

Without question, the turning point of the game occurred when Eli signal caller Peter Lee ’02 — who was bombarded by Penn defenders all afternoon — went back to pass on third down and six early in the second quarter. In a sight that quickly became all too familiar for Eli fans, several defenders hit Lee and forced the ball from his hand. The officials ruled that the ball came loose in the split second before Lee’s left arm went forward, making it a fumble. Penn’s Kunle Williams recovered the ball and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, extending the Quakers’ lead to 14-3.

“I don’t know [whether it was actually a fumble],” Lee said. “I stepped up and I didn’t see him. I was trying to throw the ball away when I got hit from behind. In my head, I was thinking about throwing the ball away.”

Despite being a call that could have gone either way, there was no question as to the play’s significance in the game.

On the flip side, after the first drive of the game — which saw a 36-yard pass from Alvin Cowan ’04 to Billy Brown ’02 on a fake punt — Yale’s potent offense came up empty.

Following the fake punt, Lee found Jim Keppel ’02 for a 14-yard strike that gave the Elis a first down at the Penn 18-yard line. Tailback Robert Carr ’05 rushed twice to bring the Bulldogs to the 5-yard line.

Following another Carr carry that resulted in a 1-yard loss, Lee was sacked for the first of 10 times on the afternoon, for a loss of five yards. On third down, under pressure again, Lee dumped the ball to Brown who could only advance to the 7, setting up a 25-yard field goal from Justin Davis ’02.

After that stalled opening drive, Yale’s offense never re-established a rhythm. The Quaker defensive corps kept the Bulldogs off balance much of the day, not allowing the big play.

“They definitely brought a lot of pressure,” Lee said. “We should have utilized the opportunities to make big plays, but we didn’t.”

Penn head coach Al Bagnoli credited his defense for Yale’s offensive ineffectiveness.

“Our philosophy was to blitz [Lee], and our guys did a great job,” Bagnoli said. “We had them off balance all day. I don’t think he even had a chance to know where the pressure was coming from.”

Despite being down 21-3 — thanks to the Eli defense, which completely shut down the Quaker offense in the second half — the game was still in reach for Yale midway through the second half. On the Bulldogs’ first offensive play of the fourth quarter, Lee hit Brown right on the numbers for a 49-yard gain, which brought Yale to the Quaker 32 with 12:59 left to play. But still facing a firing squad of Penn defenders, Lee’s next pass was incomplete, and on the next play, he was sacked by John Galan, who had 3.5 sacks on the afternoon. The drive stalled, and Yale was forced to punt.

That drive was a microcosm for the day, as the Eli offense would move the chains — they had 16 first downs — and then run into the brick wall of the Quaker defense.

“We had plenty of opportunities,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We would make a play, and then not make one.”