Penn visits Columbia (3-1, 0-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in its first of six straight Ivy League games.
The Quakers (2-2, 0-1) look to build off the momentum from their 20-0 victory over Lehigh last Saturday as they enter the thick of conference play.
Penn recorded its first shutout since 2009, but its offensive struggles continued for most of the game, which was scoreless until the third quarter. For the third straight game, Penn struggled to sustain its drives, punting four times in the first half. The Quakers punted six times in their loss to Lafayette on Sept. 25 and seven times against Dartmouth on Oct. 1.
“We have to do a better job once we get the ball to their side of the field,” Penn coach Ray Priore said.. “I think the biggest question we had, we said at halftime, is about finishing — finish the drive. And that’s what we didn’t do early on.”
Senior quarterback John Quinnelly, who has five interceptions this season, completed 12-of-19 passes for 76 yards against the Mountain Hawks and was sacked twice. Priore is still testing out his options at quarterback. Sophomore Maurcus McDaniel, listed as a defensive back on Penn’s roster, took a few snaps at quarterback in the first and third quarters, attempting one pass and a 15-yard run.
“We started [McDaniel] out as defensive back during preseason, then we moved him to wide receiver, and then we made this decision [to move him to quarterback],” Priore said. “We were in good shape to do it, and very proud to have him play [last Saturday].”
Penn started to find its offensive footing in the second half against Lehigh. Running backs Trey Flowers (115) and Isaiah Malcome (201) notched career-highs in rushing yards. The duo showed marked improvement from Penn’s loss against Dartmouth, when they combined for 49 yards rushing. Against Lafayette, they totaled just 27.
“I really think you shouldn’t expect anybody to play a perfect game,” Malcome said. “But knowing that we have steps to improve on, knowing the way I’ve been playing, knowing that I have to make those improvements and make those adjustments, makes it very exciting going into Ivy League play.”
Penn’s defense held the Mountain Hawks to net minus-3 rushing yards. The Quakers will have to build off what they started in the second half to pick up their first Ivy League victory against Columbia, which is coming off a 22-20 win at Central Connecticut State.
“So much of this game is about confidence,” Priore said. “Confidence in yourself and in your teammates and everybody else. And every time you do get a win, that builds that confidence that we’re all searching for.”
Saturday’s game will mark a reunion for Columbia coach Al Bagnoli, who spent 23 years as Penn head coach and had Priore on his staff. Bagnoli took over at Columbia in 2015 and has gone 2-3 against Penn.