Penn football looks good right now. After the Quakers started off 0-2, the Dartmouth game was over before halftime, and Central Connecticut State proved to be the non-conference softie we suspected they might be.
There are just six Ivy games left in the season, and it’s hard to imagine feeling as though the Quakers could realistically be in a much better spot than they currently are. But it still feels like we don’t know who this Penn team really is.
Justin Watson was on every preseason watch list imaginable. He leads the team with 29 catches, but that’s only translated into two touchdowns, and senior quarterback Alek Torgersen is only averaging 188 passing yards per game. The Quakers’ vaunted air raid has given way to a more effective ground game than we’ve seen in recent years.
It may be that teams simply haven’t been ready for it, but Torgersen has been remarkably effective on the ground — especially in the red zone. Of Penn’s 15 total touchdowns, six have been scored on Torgersen rushes. That’s one more score than he’s logged through the air and the same number he logged in all 2015.
Penn is scoring, but it hasn’t been in the ways we thought it would be. They’re winning games despite being outgained by opponents, 440-370 yards per game. Thanks to a bend, don’t break defense and some timely turnovers, that deficit doesn’t seem to matter.
We also haven’t seen the Quakers grind a game out just yet. In its wins, Penn went up 28-3 and 21-10 by halftime. In its losses, the scores have been close at the half
Just 23 of the Quakers’ 110 points have come in the second half. Sure, there are reasons behind a lot of this. Against Dartmouth, for example, most of the starters were gone from the game as time wound down.
But if Ray Priore’s squad is going to win an Ivy title, it is going to require some tough contests. Harvard is not going to be a blowout. Maybe Columbia will offer a surprise. It’s just not possible to breeze through the conference.
These next couple weeks will serve to really define the Red and Blue. Going into this season, it was clear Penn could be good. The last two weeks, the squad has lived up to that — albeit in ways not necessarily foreseen.
To this point, the Quakers have shown an ability to win. Last year, opponents knew what Penn would throw at them. The Quakers beat them anyway. This time around, it doesn’t really feel as though Penn has a solid identity.
So far, Priore’s been able to go with the hot hand. Sometimes it’s Solomon. Sometimes it’s sophomore wideout Christian Pearson. Consistently it’s been sophomore defensive back Mason Williams.
Perhaps Penn can ride this scheme to another Ivy title. Offensive coordinator John Regan relishes mystery and keeping opposing teams — and reporters — in the dark. He likely loves this more than anyone else.
Last year, the Quakers rallied around the mantra, “one more.” On its face, it meant that Priore wanted his squad to take the year one win at a time. This year, “one more” could mean just as much. But here, it’s about one more guy stepping up, one more impact play, one more big down.
Priore preaches the little things, and this team might be able to win just on that basis.
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