This fall, the football team playing at Franklin Field will look retro.
No, the players are not getting old school jerseys nor leather helmets.
But with a new offensive coordinator, a plethora of running backs in the backfield and a dual-threat quarterback that averaged nearly six yards per carry in 2008, the Quakers (6-4, 5-2 Ivy last year) will be a run-first team that might remind some fans of the days before the forward pass was invented.
OK, maybe that's an exaggeration since the passing game will still be a factor. But still, make no mistake about the emphasis of the 2009 Penn offense.
"Everything's going to be based on us being able to run the football," newly promoted offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin said. "People look at this version of Penn offense and will say 'Boy, this is a physical team that really can run the ball.'"
That ability to run the ball starts with one of the deepest Penn backfields in recent memory, despite no standout senior. Juniors Bradford Blackmon and Mike DiMaggio plus sophomore Matt Hamscher totaled exactly 1,000 combined yards last season and though DiMaggio is first on the depth chart, all three will see plenty of snaps.
In fact, head coach Al Bagnoli likes his backs so much, he said he's installing packages that will have multiple tailbacks in the backfield as well as packages with backs split out wide.
"We have a great backfield," junior quarterback Keiffer Garton said. "It's my job to facilitate it and get them the ball … and let our playmakers make plays."
If Garton's task is to let the playmakers take the ball, he'll be holding it a lot himself.
Though he said he was more a pocket passer in high school, last year he showed his legs were just as big of a threat as his arm. He ran for a team high 5.9 yards per carry on his way to 316 yards (only DiMaggio's 585 was higher). And all of that while starting just the last three games of the year.
In fact, it's almost pure chance that Garton has become Penn's top QB. Last year he started the season third on the depth chart. But injuries to No. 1 Robert Irvin and No. 2 Kyle Olson thrusted him into the starting spot.
"We really have been fortunate to kind of uncover a diamond in the rough through some tragedy with two other kids," Bagnoli said. "But sometimes that happens."
Garton went 2-1 as a starter and was a last-second interception away from going 3-0. He also led Penn in rushing in that span, including outrushing Princeton's Jordan Culbreath, the Ivy League's leader on the ground, in Penn's 14-9 victory at Princeton Stadium.
"He might not have had a tremendous amount of reps during practice, but mentally he knew everything that was going on … To his credit he executed pretty well," Bagnoli said.
Of course the passing game won't be completely forgotten. The Castle Rock, Colo., native - growing up his favorite player was fleet-footed quarterback John Elway of the nearby Denver Broncos - will be called upon to run playaction and screens to keep the defense honest.
But Bagnoli has been pleased with Garton's improvement in the passing game this offseason. (Last year he was 41-for-68 with a touchdown and five picks.)
So too has McLaughlin, the former offensive line coach who will continue in that capacity while also calling the offensive plays this season.
It's been a big change for Bagnoli, who admitted he normally prefers a traditional QB.
"Philosophically I never was a big running quarterback kind," the 18-year coach said. "It's enabled us to tailor the offense a lot more to what he can do well."
Come the Sept. 19 opener versus No. 5 Villanova, Penn fans will see if this new offense is tailor-made for success.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.