Last year, Penn football’s offense was in the top half of the Ivy League, scoring 26.6 points per game — the most since 2017 — en route to an impressive 8-2 record and a second-place finish in the Ivy League. Whether the Quakers can sustain that success will largely depend on how well the offensive line can dominate the trenches.
But this season, the Quakers will have several new faces along the offensive line. Two week-one starters — sophomore left tackle Netinho Olivieri and sophomore center Jake Bingham — have yet to start a game for Penn. Beyond that, junior right guard Will Bergin has only appeared in three games during his time in Red and Blue.
Fortunately for Penn, though, there are two starters who possess a wealth of experience playing up front for the Quakers. Left guard Jake Ligos and right tackle Jack Purcell are a pair of fifth-year seniors who are returning for one last season with the Red and Blue.
Ligos started all ten games for Penn last year, and Purcell has 18 starts over the last two seasons. Both were key players in an offensive line that allowed only 15 sacks — third in the Ivy League — and a marked improvement from 2021, when pass rushers got to Quaker quarterbacks 23 times.
This season, both Ligos and Purcell are settling into their new roles as the experienced pieces on the line.
“Jack and I have both had two pretty intense internships, but I don’t think either of us are ready to join the workforce just yet,” Ligos said with a chuckle. “It’s nice to come back and have a little bit of a lighter schedule, and just enjoy football and hanging around the guys.”
Despite the starters for Saturday’s game against Colgate being confirmed to the DP earlier this week, offensive line coach Kyle Metzler said that Penn plans to use several offensive linemen in a rotation at certain positions. This reflects how, during preseason camp, Metzler wasn’t ready to name a full set of starters yet.
“Well, I think the goal is to play seven, eight guys [during the non-conference season],” Metzler said. “The goal is to try and get guys experienced and obviously we're going to. There's not a huge drop off right now between [guys five through seven], so we're going to try and get guys repetitions and get them experience, and then go from there.”
Offensive coordinator Dan Swanstrom echoed that sentiment, commenting on the skill that he saw in training camp from some of the younger offensive linemen on the Quaker roster.
“We got some nice athletes,” he said. “We got some big strong players and young players. We like what they can do athletically and we're just ready to see if they're varsity football players here in the next couple weeks.”
This year, the Quaker offensive line will need to replace Trevor Radosevich, who had three years of playing experience with Penn. For the past two years, he was the starting center, and earned All-Ivy recognition both years, including first team honors in 2022, when he was also a captain. With his Ivy League eligibility up, Radosevich went to Cincinnati as a graduate transfer for the 2023 season.
“Trevor did a great job for us. He was a tremendous leader, and he's a smart football player,” Metzler said. "He was also a three year starter for me, so he had a ton of experience. Obviously, it's hard to replace that type of experience.”
For veterans like Ligos and Purcell, they now have to step up and provide some of the leadership Radosevich previously played a big part of.
“He’s definitely a tough guy to replace,” Purcell said of Radosevich. “I think we’re kind of doing it by committee … we’re doing our best stepping up, trying to be vocal, and making sure everyone is on the same track.”
This year, Penn’s offense has a lot of work to do — and a reputation to protect. Beyond just not allowing many sacks, Penn’s passing offense had over 250 yards per game and 18 touchdowns a season ago, both second in the Ivy League. But the rushing attack was seventh in the Ancient Eight, as the Quakers only managed 98.2 yards per game on the ground. Trying to improve that — especially since last year’s leading rusher Trey Flowers has played his last down in the Red and Blue — will largely be up to the downhill pressure the offensive line can generate.
With its mix of seniors and less experienced, younger players, this year’s offensive line could be the basis of the unit for years to come. In this way, the Quakers are hoping that the line can be good this year, while building the depth required to sustain success.
But the focus for the team right now is contending to win an Ivy League title — Penn’s first since 2016. For fifth-year seniors like Ligos and Purcell, 2023 represents one last ride in Red and Blue, and a chance to go out on top.
“I'd say for the 10 or so fifth-years that we have coming back, we've really seen it all,” Purcell said. “We came in, we were average, 5-5. We were really bad, 3-7. Last year we were on an uptick. I think it would be a tremendous reward to come in this year and see all that hard work pay off with a ring but really just being with this same nucleus of guys since we were 18 years old has been a tremendous experience.”