Senior tight end Ryan O’Malley says everything starts with the offensive line. And given Penn football’s success on the gridiron this season, it’s safe to say the offensive line has been stellar thus far.
As Penn readies to battle Cornell at Franklin Field on Saturday for at least a share of the Ivy League title, the Quakers currently lead the Ancient Eight with 34.2 points per game in conference play. The Red and Blue have done so with a balanced offensive attack, with the most passing (15) and rushing (14) touchdowns in the league.
Just last year, Penn finished sixth in the Ancient Eight with 21.9 points per game. But under first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan, the Red and Blue's offense has flourished. Reagan, a three-year starter on the offensive line at Syracuse who spent the last four years as an offensive coordinator at Kansas (2014) and Rice (2011-13), elected to return to Penn — he served as tight ends coach under Al Bagnoli in 1997 — to lead the offense as the team transitioned to Bagnoli’s replacement, Ray Priore.
In the passing game, junior quarterback Alek Torgersen has enjoyed a breakout season in his second full season as a starter, averaging 225.1 passing yards per game with 17 touchdowns to only two interceptions while completing an Ivy-best 69.1 percent of his passes. According to O’Malley, the offensive line has done its best to put Torgersen and other offensive players in positions to succeed.
“It’s night and day,” O’Malley said. “We had a young group of guys last year, with one senior and the rest underclassmen. Coach Reagan coming in really helped their development and I think that’s obvious from the play, too.”
The offensive line of seniors Tanner Thexton, Jack York, Daniil Lysenko and juniors Dan Poulos and Nick Demes has achieved strong chemistry – four of the five, all but Poulos, started together last season as well. Apart from meshing together as a unit, York, who plays center, credits Reagan as a difference-maker.
“Coach Reagan’s attention to detail really elevates our line play,” York said. He added, “We’re not doing anything differently that’s too drastic from last year.”
Coming in, Reagan aimed to maximize performance by tailoring the offensive scheme to the abilities of his players. Coming in “with an open mind,” Reagan said he was encouraged by what he saw, and York claims the line has been more effective through small changes that the average fan might not even notice.
“We run the same kind of plays but the way that we block is different. It might look the same on TV but the way we run it offensive line-wise is different,” York said.
In a July interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Reagan said that while he wasn’t sure how exactly things would shake out, he wanted to revitalize a running game that was ravaged by injuries in 2014.
“In order to be a championship-level team, you have to be able to run the football,” he said. “There’s times in a game, whether they be a short-yardage situation, just a key down-and-distance or at the end of a game when you’re trying to hold onto the ball. Championship teams have to be able to run the football.”
The Quakers have done just that. Junior Brian Schoenauer leads the way with 534 yards on 105 attempts (5.1 average) and sophomore Tre Solomon is not far behind with 97 totes for 443 yards (4.6 average). Junior quarterback Alek Torgersen himself has 350 gained yards on the ground. Even sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson had a 100-yard effort in this past weekend’s win at Harvard.
While this will likely be the final game for seniors Trexton, York and Lysenko, it is clear that they and Reagan have paved the way for a potential offensive juggernaut in the coming years.
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