Halfbacks Brian Schoenauer and Tre Solomon specialize in one thing: Title runs.
During Penn football’s Ivy League championship season in 2015, much of the attention — both from defenders on the field and spectators off of it — was focused on quarterback Alek Torgersen, who had a breakout season as a junior, and wideout Justin Watson, who as a sophomore established himself as the best receiver in the league.
The long ball is sexy, and not just in baseball. That’s why the Red and Blue aerial assault, led by “Torg” and “J-Wat,” was such a storyline last year. But the Quakers owed a huge part of their success to the ground game, which was possibly more dominant, albeit more quietly so.
Penn led the Ivy League during conference play in rushing yards (1,194), yards-per-carry (4.5, tied with Harvard) and rushing touchdowns (16) in 2015, so it’s not a stretch to say the Quakers’ ground attack was the best in the Ancient Eight. The charge was led by two running backs who, like most of the team, had done very little in 2014.
Brian Schoenauer, coming off a sophomore campaign in which he rushed for just 206 yards on a very pedestrian 3.4 YPC, burst on the scene as a junior, leading the team with 652 yards on the ground and finishing second in the Ivy League with 5.3 YPC while finding the end zone six times in 10 games.
Tre Solomon, after suffering a season-ending knee injury that derailed a promising freshman season, managed to stay on the field as a sophomore and, like his backfield mate Schoenauer, was very effective, finishing with 535 all-purpose yards, 4.53 YPC, seven touchdowns on the ground and two more in the receiving game.
So, whereas the backfield was a huge question-mark heading into last season, the Quakers can enter the 2016 campaign with huge confidence in their ground game.
“We’ve got a pretty good situation, both guys have a ton of experience,” offensive coordinator John Reagan said. “You’ve got a senior who was really steady all of last year and has a leadership role here, and you’ve got Tre, a junior that finally is healthy and looks like the Tre we all thought he was going to be.”
In such a physical sport, having two quality running backs, as opposed to one, is huge. Both Schoenauer and Solomon appreciate the presence of the other to ease their own burden.
“It definitely does take a lot of pressure off of me, just knowing that he’s gonna be able to come in, and knowing that once he comes in the offense won’t skip a beat,” Solomon said of Schoenauer.
“But at the same time,” he added, “if there’s a long run, or somebody’s got the hot hand, you have the ability to ride that, with multiple running backs.”
If the two backs are fighting for carries, it is a friendly competition that can only be beneficial to the team.
“It’s great because you always have someone who’s pushing you,” Schoenauer said. “I keep trying to raise the bar and push our expectations of what we can be and what we can do to be the most productive and reliable unit on the offense.”
With so much talent on the offense, everybody will have to make sacrifices, but that ultimately comes at the expense of the Quakers’ opponents, not the Red and Blue themselves. Far from feeling snubbed by the amount of attention given to Watson and Torgersen, the two running backs are excited about the added opportunities they will have to wreak havoc out of the backfield.
“I think with so much focus on J-Wat and Torg — and rightfully so — that’s gonna give us the opportunity to do something special, because teams are gonna be thinking about the talent we have at quarterback and wide receiver,” Schoenauer said. “And we’re hoping that that’s going to open up the field for us so we can make productive plays and contribute as much as we can.”
“It definitely opens up a lot of running lanes,” Solomon agreed.
Reagan has his work cut out for him, but with “work” being the task of spreading the love between two excellent runningbacks and a deadly receiving threat, he is surely the envy of the other seven Ivy League offensive coordinators.
“It is a challenge,” he said, “but it’s a good problem to have.”
And how exactly does Reagan plan to address this “problem,” to use the threat of Watson to open up space for Solomon and Schoenauer and vice-versa? Like any good coach, he prioritized keeping opposing defenses in the dark over giving the media the bold, fancy quote:
“I guess we’ll see.”
But unlike last year, there are few guessing games to be played. There are hardly any question marks for this offense on the eve of the season, especially in the running game. Brian Schoenauer and Tre Solomon are bringing the pain.
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