There are a lot of things you can do in 2:39 — listen to Joe Cocker’s version of “You Are So Beautiful To Me,” run a really quick half mile, watch a Saturday Night Live skit — but making a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback is not one of them.
In the football team’s 23-6 loss to Penn on Saturday, the Red’s offense only touched the ball for 2:39 in the fourth quarter and 21:08 overall. Penn averages 33:24 of possession per game, but topped even that on Saturday behind a methodical running game — and not much else.
The Quakers ran the ball an astounding 67 times, gaining 282 yards, and held the ball for a total of 38:52. With only 12 pass attempts netting a paltry 22 yards, calling Penn’s offense one-dimensional might be an overstatement.
“We thought [their offense] was going to be [focused on running it], maybe not that one-sided, but we knew it was going to be heavy run,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Obviously with their defense playing so well and our offense struggling, then you knew that’s what it was going to become because they could. Their defense had our offense behind the eight ball.”
Indeed, with Cornell’s offense only mustering only one drive over four minutes in the entire game, Penn was able to consistently grind down the clock. The Quakers’ running attack wasn’t flashy, but it chugged along at a 4.2 yards per carry clip, enough to get the job done against the Red.
“As long as you’re making three, four yards a pop, it’s going to be successful because of their defense,” Knowles said “They’ve played behind their defense all year, and really done a good job of it.”
Penn has given up the fewest yards per game and second fewest points per game in the Ivy League this year. But as much as the Quakers play behind their defense, they’ve been playing behind their running quarterback, whoever it may be at any given moment. A plethora of injuries and benchings left Penn with sophomore Keiffer Garton — a run-first, pass-second quarterback — taking snaps going into the last game. But even Garton had hurt his ankle in the team’s loss to Harvard two weeks ago. And when he reinjured that ankle at the end of the first quarter Saturday, the Quakers tossed junior Brendan McNally — who started the season a safety — into the fray.
“He just did a tremendous job protecting the football under very dire weather conditions. He just continually tried to eat the clock up, move the chains and manage the offense,” said Penn head coach Al Bagnoli.
Penn ran a variety of quarterback keepers, quarterback options, a few bootlegs and even the occasional traditional handoff up the middle. While McNally was efficient, with 93 yards on 22 carries, running back Mike DiMaggio was damaging with 129 yards on only 19 carries.
However, Bagnoli wanted to limit DiMaggio’s rushes as he was nursing multiple injuries. Again, the burden fell to McNally, who entered the game having only played in two games, carrying the ball once for two yards. He had not yet registered a passing attempt.
“We kind of had to pepper back and forth [between McNally and DiMaggio],” Bagnoli said. “We wanted to try and get out in front, so we wanted to run [McNally] early. Then, at the end, just hand the ball off to the tailback and try to bleed the clock. If we needed to run [DiMaggio], great, but at least we didn’t burn him out too early.”
McNally engineered a 13-play, 6:01 drive in the first quarter, a 12-play, 6:19 drive spanning the third and fourth quarter and eat up the final 4:31 in eight rushing plays. The drives were time consuming not because they were long marches down the field — spanning only 59, 32 and 19 yards respectively — but because Penn ran the ball into the ground. The first quarter drive only included one pass. McNally carried most of the load on that drive, but as Bagnoli said after, he had wanted to save his running backs for the late third and fourth quarter.
True to his word, Bagnoli had McNally and a corps of running backs split carries on the Quakers’ second long drive. On the last drive, DiMaggio got five straight carries.
It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.
“[DiMaggio] gets banged up and our kids have just showed tremendous resolve and resiliency all year,” Bagnoli said. “It was another display of our kids just gutting it out.”
“Today, I thought we kept [McNally] decently contained as opposed to some other games [against running quarterbacks], but we could have done better,” said senior defensive lineman Lucas McCarthy.