November 19, 2007

Penn Rushes Through Cornell Defense for 329 Yards, Four Touchdowns

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It’s certainly been an up-and-down year for the football team’s run defense. In some contests, such as against Columbia or Brown, it was able to limit the opposing teams’ backs. Other times, though, such as against Princeton or Yale, the rushing defense was porous. Unfortunately for Cornell, Saturday’s game against Penn fell into the latter category, as the defense gave up 329 rushing yards in its 45-9 loss.
Cornell’s run defense was hoping to build off of last week’s strong showing against Columbia. In that game, the Red only allowed 64 yards on the ground, preventing the Lions from controlling the pace of the contest. Against Penn, though, it was a completely different story as Cornell let up the 329 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry.
“I think it is pretty fair to say that they dominated the line of scrimmage,” said senior Ryan Blessing. “It seemed like they always got a couple of yards up field before someone got a hand on them. It is tough to win a football game when that happens.”
Penn’s ground attack was not limited to one person. In fact, six different players had over 10 yards rushing and three players recorded 50 yards or more. Penn was led by senior quarterback Bryan Walker, who ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns, to go along with his 118 yards passing. Freshman running back Michael DiMaggio also had a big day for the Quakers, gaining 94 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Bradford Blackmon ran 12 times for 60 yards and even senior punter Anthony Melillo got in on the action, running for 35 yards on a fake punt.
“They just beat us up front,” said junior Tim Bax. “We didn’t fill the alleys like we were supposed to do, like our defense is prided on. They just played more physical than us.”
Clearly, one of the most important aspects in a team’s ground attack is the offensive line, and Penn’s offensive line clearly showed its prowess against Cornell. The Quakers have experience up front, as three starting linemen, Will Milne, Jesse Rigler and Brian Brazinski, are seniors. The other two starters, Matt Schaefer and Chris Kovalcik, are a sophomore and junior respectively. Penn’s veteran line won the battle on the line of scrimmage all day, allowing its backs and quarterback to have big games on the ground.
“They controlled the front, their offensive line played great,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “When you are getting whipped that badly on the line of scrimmage, you’re going to struggle. Whether it is run or pass, it doesn’t matter; you’re struggling.”
“The offensive line from the very first snap took charge of this game,” Walker said. “They just dominated up front. I think that is where the game started and where it finished.”
The first drive of the game for Penn was emblematic of the Quakers’ offensive philosophy – run early and often. On this opening drive, Penn utilized the combination of Walker and DiMaggio to put Cornell into an early 7-0 hole. On the 72-yard drive, the Quakers only passed twice. Instead, it chipped away at the Red defense using eight relatively short running plays, none of which went for over 11 yards. Walker capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown on the ground.
The second drive was more of the same, as Penn once again only passed the ball twice. Only having one rushing play go for more than 10 yards, the Quakers were able to drive 39 yards for a field goal. These two drives cemented Penn’s commitment to running the ball, an attitude that it would keep throughout the entire game
“Obviously they ran the ball a lot more, but you could tell after the first of second series that that was what their plan was going to be,” Knowles said. “It wasn’t like at that point we didn’t know what was going to come, they just physically handled us up front. They dominated and controlled the line of scrimmage.”