football

Sophomore running back Tre Solomon was an offensive weapon throughout the day against Lehigh, but his efforts were diminished in part by the Quakers' reliance on the short passing game.

Photo: Ilana Wurman

Only one word can describe the dysfunction that occurred on a play that the Red and Blue had been waiting nine months to run: absurd.

As a first year coach, there is reason to be nervous about a lot of things. But delivering a successful snap to the quarterback isn't necessarily one of them.

Of course, though, this is Penn, and to start off the 2015 campaign and the Ray Priore era, the Quakers were flagged for an illegal snap on their first play from scrimmage.

While it would be silly to reduce the game down to this one botched play, it clearly did signify that this year’s squad is eerily reminiscent of last year’s.

After the initial three-play, four-yard series, there was a palpable “here we go again” feeling surrounding the Red and Blue as Lehigh began to march back down the field with little resistance from the Penn defense.

Then, surprisingly the Quakers seemed to regain confidence and play with a swagger that was absent during nearly all of Al Bagnoli’s final season.

The Red and Blue's front seven dug their feet in and stopped the Mountain Hawks at the goal line. Suddenly, the buzz and elation was absent in Goodman Stadium and on the Lehigh sideline as Penn jumped with joy and the offense ran back onto the field for a second shot at tying the game.

Building on the momentum, junior quarterback Alek Torgersen led the Quakers down the field with an encouraging mixture of excellent play-calling from new offensive coordinator John Reagan.

Torgersen aired it out on throws to seniors Cam Countryman and Ryan Kelly with impressive runs by sophomore Tre Solomon also accounting for the bulk of the yardage.

This was simply a different team.

Unfortunately, all it took to bring the Quakers back down to size was a subsequent Lehigh touchdown.

And then, just like that, Penn returned to the system it ran all of last season when it averaged a middling 21.3 points per game. The gameplan became marred by horizontal offense: screen passes to wideouts replaced handoffs and attempts over the middle.

Sure, sophomore Justin Watson hauled in a 74-yard touchdown off a screen in the third quarter, but by moving away from a rushing attack that averaged 7.8 yards per carry from the running backs, the team clearly shot itself in the foot.

And considering that the defense allowed 31.9 points per contest last season and gave up 42 to Lehigh on Saturday, it seems that 21 points per contest simply will not cut it for the Penn offense this season.

The Quakers only had one drive last over four minutes compared to Lehigh’s four and only had four drives of over five plays versus the Mountain Hawks’ eight. Ultimately, Lehigh held the ball for 36:11, or 12 and a half more minutes than the Red and Blue.

These disparities point to the root of the problem.

The Penn offense is not doing its job keeping the defense off the field. Its longest drive was the second, in which it broke from its usual script and scored its first touchdown of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, the Red and Blue have the personnel to make this season different from last.

Solomon highlights a backfield that is deep and healthy. The Red and Blue's three backs are strong and play behind a veteran offensive line that only allowed them to be tackled in the backfield once all game.

However, if the coaching staff cannot figure out a way to flip the gameplan to take advantage of those strengths, then this season could look incredibly similar to last.

Unfortunately for the Quakers, their next three games may very well be their toughest.

Matchups with Villanova (on short rest), Dartmouth and Fordham could provide little chance for any improvement or positive takeaways. At worst, Penn could see playmakers go down with injury in these mismatches, much like it did last year.

One thing, however, is for sure: If Torgerson continues to attempt 42 passes per game with Solomon as the primary back as he did Saturday, then the Quakers are wasting opportunity, talent and perhaps even the season.

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