Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017 Opponent Preview: Penn


LB Colton Moskal lived up to the hype in 2016


It really says something when you’re a two-time defending Ivy champion and you still have 11 returning All Ivy players.

That’s the reality for the Penn Quakers, who have a bevy of riches in their pockets as they try for a 3-peat. That is, they have riches in their pockets with the exception of the man who works in the pocket… the quarterback.

The very good QB Alek Torgersen is gone to graduation, and that’s obviously the one position where experience counts the most. Making matters worse, heir apparent Michael Collins defected to TCU in the spring, leaving even more questions to be answered at Franklin Field.

Of course, this is still Penn we’re talking about. Unlike the result of Dartmouth’s loss of Dalyn Williams last year, where the Big Green went from “first to worst” without him, the Quakers are not in terrible trouble.

First off, they have transfer QB Nick Robinson from the University of Georgia on the roster and he certainly has the pocket passing tools to make the Quakers formidable again in 2017. Secondly, they still have a talented running and gunning QB in sophomore Tyler Herrick. 

We shouldn't yet assume that Robinson is getting the starting job just because of his big time athletic program pedigree. But I'd still have to say I'd make him the favorite to start.

Here’s a look at the rest of what we can expect from Penn:

OFFENSE

Okay, Penn isn’t returning every great player other than Torgeresen. The offensive line also had some significant graduation losses as 1st Team All Ivy Nick Demes and 2nd Team All Ivy Dan Poulous are gone and fellow starter Nick Whitton has also graduated. Nathan Kirchmeier, an Honorable Mention All Ivy does return. So the 2017 Quakers will be sporting a new QB and mostly new starting O-line at the same time. 

But that’s where the offensive concerns should end. 1st Team All Ivy RB Tre Solomon and  1st Team All Ivy WR Justin Watson return, as does 2nd Team All Ivy WR Christian Pearson. That’s an embarrassment of riches for that new QB, whoever he is, to work with.

DEFENSE

The Quakers have no fewer than five All Ivy returnees on defense, led by monster DE Louis Vecchio and ball hawking DB Mason Williams. Three returning linebackers made 2nd Team or Honorable Mention All Ivy, led by Syracuse transfer Colton Moskal. Another 2nd Team All Ivy returnee is Sam Phillippi. All of the aforementioned players also happen to have made an impact in the Penn win over Columbia last season at Franklin Field.

All three starters on the D-line are back, and 3/4 of the starting LB’s and 3/4 of the starting DB’s are back too.

It’s no leap of faith to expect the Quakers to have the best defense in the Ivies this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Honorable Mention All Ivy Hunter Kelly is back after posting an impressive 42.7 yards per punt average last year. And kickoff specialist Jack Soslow is back too.

But placekicking was basically non-existent for Penn last year as the Quakers only attempted five FG’s, making just one. The now-graduated Jimmy Gammil was an impressive 38-for-38 on PAT’s.

So it looks like it’s up to sophomore Drew Brennan or freshman David Perkins to do the job, unless Soslow is ready to shoulder more duties. Soslow did attempt one FG last season, missing from just 23 yards out.


Overall

A lot of Ivy watchers are taking it almost for granted that Penn will win at least a share of the title again this season. I’m not one of them. I certainly expect Penn to be in the top 3 finishers and wouldn’t be at all surprised if they do pull off a championship. But with a new QB and O-line to break in at the same time, it’s hard to be so sure they’ve got the inside track. But the Quakers do have time to get it right. They don’t have an Ivy contest until week 3 against Dartmouth and will have until week 5 when they face their second league opponent in Columbia. That’s enough time to get their QB/O-line ship on course. And the fact that neither the Big Green nor the Lions are expected to finish in the top 3 in the Ivies this fall is another break for Penn. Oh, and week six opponent Yale is no lock for a winning season either.

Penn might start a bit slow, but get exponentially better by week three. This is a team that could win the title outright, but also fall back as far as third. 

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