On the second play from scrimmage, John Hurley dropped back three steps, looked right and calmly completed a pass to Matt Tuten for 11 yards.
Two plays later, the sophomore quarterback rolled right and hurled another smooth 11-yard completion to tight end Luke Nawrocki.
Two passes. Two completions. No wasted motion. Perfect execution.
Pretty impressive for a first-time starter.
Then after the solid opening, Hurley was substituted for… wide receiver Kyle Derham?
The switch was certainly a headscratcher, but it didn’t come as a complete surprise. Al Bagnoli has employed a much more creative offense this season, shuffling receivers and running backs behind center for direct snaps and Wildcat-type formations. (He calls it “the slash.”)
The change in philosophy makes sense with the emergence of Keiffer Garton as an effective mobile quarterback and the recruitment of similar players like Billy Ragone. But it has also led to injuries for both those quarterbacks, and Bagnoli has had to change up the offense each week to accommodate a new signal caller.
“You try to play it to their strengths,” he said of the weekly changes to the gameplan. “I thought what we did made sense, but you have to be a little bit imaginative at this point.”
The newfangled schemes have had some success, but when Derham air mailed an easy interception to Bucknell’s Ahkiel White, I questioned the decision to take out Hurley so early in the game.
As it turns out, I was dead wrong.
On the next possession after Derham’s INT, players not named Hurley lined up under center four times in nine plays. That drive was capped off with a touchdown pass by sophomore running back Matt Hamscher — quite unsurprisingly the first of his career.
Rather than disrupting Hurley’s rhythm, which was the issue that concerned me, Bagnoli’s gameplan actually helped Hurley by lightening his burden.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be the one that was going to have to carry the whole team,” he said.
Of course that didn’t mean all those other talents — Derham, Hamscher, Bradford Blackmon, Lyle Marsh — had to line up in crazy formations to lend the support Hurley needed to excel. The Cincinnati kid could have leaned on his strong ground game in a more traditional offense like the ones Penn has run in the past.
To his credit, Hurley handled the situation with composure uncharacteristic of a first-time starter in an offense not designed to his skill set. He adjusted to play within the system and didn’t let the lack of continuity effect his timing with the receivers (practicing with the first team during the week obviously helps).
By the end of the game it was clear that the new spread offense is here to stay. Bucknell coach Tim Landis already knew as much.
“We didn’t worry too much about who was going to play quarterback,” he said. “We just prepared our defense based on what they’ve been running.”
Not caring about the QB?
Noah Rosenstein is a junior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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