For 15 minutes Saturday, Yale played masterfully. The Elis outscored Penn 21-0 during that period, with quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 completing all six of his passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
Yet after that last quarter, as the final whistle sounded at Franklin Field, it was 38-21 Penn, Mroz’s exploits having done little to undo three quarters governed by Murphy’s Law.
“I thought they played a great football game,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said of the Quakers (5-1, 3-0 Ivy), now the Ivy League’s lone undefeated team. “They dominated on both sides of the ball.”
Yale (2-4, 2-1) was penalized eight times for 109 yards, converted one third down out of 11, and failed to stop Penn on four fourth-down tries. But perhaps the most telling statistic from Saturday’s farce was that after three quarters Penn had twice as many points (38) as Yale had offensive yards (19).
The Bulldogs never got their bearings in the blowout loss. Penn received the opening kick and drove 54 yards on a long, 12-play drive before Derek Zoch missed a 44-yard field goal. Yale swiftly returned the ball to Penn after one series, whereupon the Quakers began a torrid streak of four touchdowns on their next five possessions.
Never gaining more than 14 yards on any play, Penn deliberately moved the ball past the helpless Eli defense, which provided little resistance even after quarterback Pat McDermott went down early with a shoulder injury. Running back Sam Mathews gave Penn its first touchdown with a short dive from the one.
Yale could do nothing in response. Mroz fired two incompletions before getting sacked for a nine-yard loss on third down. McDermott’s able replacement, sophomore Bryan Walker, took only two plays to make his presence felt. On second and seven from the Yale 48, Walker lofted a seam pass downfield to running back Joe Sandberg, who had lined up as a receiver. Sandberg had slight separation from cornerback Andrew Butler ’06, but safety Matt Handlon ’06 had him targeted for a kill shot. Handlon hesitated, however, seemingly undecided whether to go for Sandberg or his quarterback’s fluttering pass. He missed both and hit only Butler, leaving Sandberg alone to streak into the end zone.
After another Yale three and out, which also included a sack of Mroz, Penn added to its lead. A short punt and a kick-catch interference penalty put Penn at the Yale 27, and Mathews broke tackle after tackle to score his second of three rushing touchdowns on the day.
A few possessions later, Penn reached the end zone for the fourth time that half. On a first and 10 at the Yale 31, Butler had a chance to foil the Quakers when Walker overthrew his receiver. The errant pass hit Butler in the chest but could not fall in his hands, and two plays later — when Butler was beaten on a post pattern by receiver Matt Carre — Penn had another touchdown.
“In the first half we really just didn’t do anything,” Siedlecki said.
By the end of the third quarter, Penn had added 10 more points, the score was 38-0 and the reserves were on the field.
The Yale defense’s worst game of the season was compounded by an offense so utterly incapable of sustaining a drive that it did not venture into Penn territory until the fourth quarter.
Few expected Yale to run the ball with great success against Penn, Division I-AA’s top run defense, but it came as a great surprise that the Elis could not muster any semblance of a passing game.
“When you can’t run the ball, you’re one-dimensional and teams can tee off on you,” Mroz said. “When they know what you’re going to run, it’s tough, but when it’s third and 12, what do you think you’re going to run?”
The four first-half sacks of Mroz equaled his season total prior to Saturday.
“[The pass rush] was one of the keys,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “They’re a very rhythmic passing attack. Once [Mroz] gets into a rhythm and he gets comfortable, they’re pretty explosive. So I thought it was key to get some push up the middle and get him to move his feet left and right and get him not as comfortable in the pocket.”
Ashley Wright ’07 caught two touchdowns and Todd Feiereisen ’06 another in the irrelevant fourth quarter.
“For the first three quarters, that was probably as well as we’ve played, from top to bottom, in a long time,” Bagnoli said. “But it’s a combination — they probably didn’t play as well as they’re capable of playing and we probably played as well as we’re capable of playing.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”15634″ ]