If Penn football had two faces, they would be senior quarterback Alek Torgersen and junior wide receiver Justin Watson.
But a third name has quietly been making a case for leader of the offense.
While the Quakers’ highly-anticipated air attack has yet to really awe supporters this season, the team’s running game has made up for any slack left by Watson and his receiving core.
Junior running back Tre Solomon has carried that load.
In Penn’s two wins over the last two weekends, Solomon rushed for 221 yards. Solomon and Co. ran for 380 yards while Torgersen threw for 404. For an attack that most expected to be all-pass, it has been a welcome surprise to see such productivity on the ground.
And coach Ray Priore saw it exactly as that — a surprise, though he might have had a hand in planning it.
Against Dartmouth two weekends ago, Priore’s offense was often seen lining up with three running backs behind the ball, sometimes without Torgersen even on the field. From that surprise formation, the team could then execute a number of different plays which caused the Big Green problems all night.
“We always want to try to give defenses different looks week in, week out,” Priore said. “The more things you do, the more things they have to prepare for. We have three talented tailbacks, so our ability to get all three of them on the field at the same time causes defenses problems.”
Torgersen echoed his coach’s thoughts about the new formation.
“That formation is tricky for defenses to cover. They don’t know which one of those three are gonna get the ball.”
As for Solomon, who stands perhaps to benefit the most from the three-back formation, he happily remarked on how fun it was being able to receive direct snaps on the field.
“It’s a lot of fun for me," he commented. "I was really nervous at first, because I hadn’t taken a snap since I was in high school. But this has been a lot of fun — calling the cadence is really cool, I get to use my really deep voice to command the offensive line. Any time we get more than one running back on the field, it’s a lot of fun for us. We like to have a party in the backfield.”
Another thing has been interesting to watch unfold in the Red and Blue’s offense — Solomon leads the team in rush yards by far, but the second-placed rusher might be surprising. Torgersen has gained 248 yards for the Quakers and has the team’s longest run of the season so far at 25 yards.
How, you might wonder? Let the quarterback himself explain.
“Tre’s been doing a great job. [Defenders are] keying him a lot, so it opens up run lanes for myself,” he said. “It’s been a lot different for me, I’m used to just sitting back and passing, maybe rushing a little bit, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it. It’s a lot different. I’m a little more beat up after every game, taking so many hits, but I’m obviously enjoying it, since it’s been so successful.”
But when it comes down to it, the team needs Solomon to keep pounding away on the ground in order to open up avenues for Watson to exploit on the outside. The more effectively Solomon is running the ball, the more often Penn’s talisman wideout will find himself in one-on-one coverage, an irresistible prospect for Torgersen and his favorite target.
“Last year, I just don’t think I was as focused as I am this year,” Solomon said. “This year, I’ve been working a lot with the coaches, working a lot with Brian [Schoenauer], and just trying to learn as much as I can and take as many reps as I can during practice.”
That mentality has brought him success. If Solomon can keep on putting in reps and improving little by little, then the newfound balance on the Red and Blue’s offense could serve them well in the final six weeks of the season.
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