Ray Priore

Tre Solomon opens game with 77-yard TD, Penn beats Harvard

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Tre Solomon opens game with 77-yard TD, Penn beats Harvard

BOX SCORE

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Tre Solomon ran for 181 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries, and Pennsylvania beat Harvard 23-6 on Saturday.

Solomon opened the game with a 77-yard touchdown, the longest rush of his career, and Justin Watson gave Penn a 17-3 lead early in the third.

Watson caught eight passes for 48 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown that came two plays after Conor O'Brien's 39-yard interception return. Watson set an Ivy League record with his ninth consecutive game with a receiving touchdown.

Will Fischer-Colbrie threw for 130 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for Penn (5-4, 3-3 Ivy). Jack Soslow kicked three field goals with a long of 40.

Joseph Viviano III and Jake Smith split time at quarterback for Harvard (5-4, 3-3). Smith was 8 of 15 for 81 yards, and Viviano threw for 109 yards with one interception.

Penn begins quest for 3rd straight Ivy League title with uncertainty at QB

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Penn Athletics

Penn begins quest for 3rd straight Ivy League title with uncertainty at QB

Looking for his third straight Ivy League championship in his third year as head coach, Ray Priore guides the Penn football team into a 2017 campaign filled with both sky-high expectations and uncertainty at the most important position on the field.

Ahead of the Quakers’ season-opener vs. Ohio Dominican on Saturday at Franklin Field (1 p.m., CSN), here’s a closer look at what to expect from Penn this season:

Offense
At wide receiver, there’s no one better in the Ivy League and few better in all of FCS football than Justin Watson, a star senior who ranks second in Penn history in career receptions (205) and receiving yards (2,694) and enters the season a preseason first team All-American and candidate for the Walter Payton Award.

The Quakers are also stacked at running back, where senior Tre Solomon returns after leading the Ivies in rushing yards (907) last season.

But nobody on Penn’s roster has taken a college snap following the graduation of Alek Torgersen, now with the Washington Redskins' practice squad. And after a hard-fought training camp quarterback competition, senior Will Fischer-Colbrie won the job over newcomers Nick Robinson and Ryan Glover.

“He’s the most experienced because he’s been in the system for a handful of years,” Priore said. “The two youngsters we brought in are doing phenomenal; they just have not picked up the system to where we like it going into Week 1.”

Priore said Robinson, a transfer from the University of Georgia, and Glover, a true freshman from Atlanta, may still get some reps, so look for them to possibly see the field against an Ohio Dominican team that the Quakers should beat handily.

In the meantime, Fischer-Colbrie will lean heavily on Solomon, a sturdy offensive line and a good receiving corps that includes juniors Christian Pearson, Steve Farrell and, of course, Watson.

“I think that we both know how good we can be and how much we can help our team and how good we can make the kids around us,” said Solomon of he and Watson. “And that’s what we try to do every day. We try to be as vocal as we possibly can, we try to lead by example all the time. I’m really excited to see what [Watson] does in his last year. It’s his finale, man. He’s been, in my opinion, the league’s MVP, or at least the offensive MVP, every year since he’s got here. And it’s just gonna be really exciting to see him in his senior year.”

Defense
The Quakers also boast a star playmaker on the other side of the football — Watson’s fellow co-captain Louis Vecchio. A big-time recruit who chose Penn over Stanford and other Pac-12 programs, Vecchio came into his own last season, earning first-team All-Ivy honors after leading the Quakers in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (10.5) and scoring a defensive touchdown in a huge home win over Harvard.

What does the senior defensive end think the defense has in store this season?

“We’re holding ourselves to a higher standard,” Vecchio said. “We’re looking to put in the work each day to make sure we live up to it. With a lot of vets coming back, we’re trying to raise the bar and it’ll show up on the field. We’re gonna be ready to play.”

In addition to Vecchio, the Quakers return seven other defensive starters, including linebacker Colton Moskal, a Syracuse transfer and last year’s leading tackler (89), and second team All-Ivy defensive back Sam Philippi.

But the unit must overcome the loss of cornerback Mason Williams, who led the Ivies in interceptions last year before transferring to Duke.

“I’m excited as ever and hopefully we can show the league where we deserve to be,” Vecchio said. “We want to go out on top.”

Special teams
Priore announced this week that junior Jack Soslow, a local native from Haverford School, won the placekicking job after serving as the kickoff specialist the last two seasons.

Senior Hunter Kelley returns at punter after leading the Ivies in punting average (42.7) last season.

Coaching
Priore could not have asked for a better start to his head coaching career, leading the Quakers to a piece of two straight league titles following two rare losing seasons under Al Bagnoli.

But Priore, a longtime Penn assistant under Bagnoli, has tried to forget all that as he prepared for a new season.

“I’ve been on the staff for 30 years and we’ve gone through some great times,” he said. “Sometimes you forget what gets you there and you just have to keep it revved up and keep it going. You try to keep the energy level up. There’s a process to everything.”

Player to watch
It’s worth a trip to Franklin Field play just to check out Watson, who may go down as one of the best football players in Ivy League history.

It will be interesting to see how he’ll fare catching passes from a new quarterback, but judging by how hard he worked in the offseason to reshape his body, his senior season may still be his best one yet.

“It’s always nice having Justin out there,” Priore said. “He’s so talented and such a humble kid. He’s the hardest-working kid on the field. He leads by example. If you need to get the ball into his hands, you can. He can make big plays happen.”

Watson may be good enough to not only play in the NFL but potentially even be an early-round draft pick. But after talking with Torgersen, he knows he can’t focus on that yet.

“His biggest thing is what’s gonna help me the most is winning a championship,” said Watson of his friend and former QB. “I really don’t want to leave the season with any regrets.”

Game to watch
Penn’s road to each of the last two titles went through Harvard as they upset the nationally ranked Crimson in a pair of thrillers.

Can the Quakers do it again when they travel to Harvard for the penultimate game of the season on Nov. 11 — a game sandwiched between big home games against rival Princeton and Cornell.

Prediction
This is a hard team to figure out. They have all the pieces, but a huge question mark at quarterback.

Although the Quakers want that outright crown, look for them to once again share the Ivy title after losing an early game and figuring things out down the stretch.

Penn football picked to finish 3rd in Ivy League as conference focuses on player safety

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USA Today Images

Penn football picked to finish 3rd in Ivy League as conference focuses on player safety

Preseason college football practices opened across the country in recent weeks to increased safety due to the elimination of multiple practices with contact during a single day - the two-a-days.

Such mentality fell into line with some of the measures previously taken by the Ivy League.

With their league at the forefront of trying to reduce concussions and keep student-athletes healthy, Ivy coaches reflected on some of the changes Tuesday during a preseason conference call to preview their upcoming season.

Princeton and Harvard were installed as the preseason co-favorites in a close media vote over Penn. Harvard coach Tim Murphy said the Quakers were too low considering they're a two-time defending Ivy champion, sharing the 2015 title with his Crimson and last year's title with Princeton.

The tie atop the poll was the first since 2008 and the third all-time. Yale was picked fourth followed by Dartmouth, Brown (one first-place vote), Columbia and Cornell.

Coaches lauded the level of play in the league, especially veteran coaches such as Murphy, Brown's Phil Estes and Columbia's Al Bagnoli. The rise could be impacted by the emphasis on keeping players healthy.

"Most guys 25 years or older, they had never had that mind-set back when we played. You did what you were coached to do and you taught what you learned when you were a player. Nothing had changed for a long period of time," said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, acknowledged as the league's chief driving force for implementing safety measures. "Certainly with technology and some of the concerns with compression head injury, TBI (traumatic brain injury), growing awareness, we can do things in a different fashion. What I'm finding right now is there's a greater receptivity."

The Ivy League formally eliminated "live" to-the-ground tackling in practices during the regular season last year, continuing to address safety measures alongside the Xs and Os. In addition, league members moved kickoffs to the 40-yard line and touchbacks to the 20-yard line in an effort to limit returns and the possibility of concussions from one of football's more dangerous plays. Two-a-days also had been scaled back in the preseason.

"I think that the rule changes that we made in the league have given us an opportunity to keep the players safe and also decrease the high collisions on special teams, especially on the kickoff game. It's really made the game better," Yale coach Tony Reno said.

Added Penn coach Ray Priore, "How you teach tackling has changed. We used to put the helmet on the ball to cause fumbles; now it's on the back hip in the rugby style. It's changed in that facet, how we as coaches have to re-look at the teaching of some of those mechanisms. I think some of the rules are spot-on with what we want to do without changing the integrity of the game."

The Ivy League has been reviewing concussions since 2010, moving from football to a number of other sports such as lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling and rugby.

Safety measures go beyond concussions as well. Cornell coach David Archer notes the risk of knee and leg injuries are down because players aren't being driven to the ground in practice.

Dartmouth has been especially active, developing a robotic tackling dummy, called the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP), to simulate live tackling in an effective and realistic way. The product was unveiled in 2015, nearly five years after coach Teevens instituted a no-tackling policy in practice to keep more players healthy.

Said Priore: "You could see based on the lack of injuries that were reported at the end of the year that … being a successful football team is how healthy you can you stay. I think all these measures go into helping us stay healthy."

Key Ivy League games
Penn at Harvard (Nov. 11) - The last 10 Ivy League titles have included one or both of these powers. Expect the streak to continue in 2017.

Five More: Yale at Dartmouth (Oct. 7); Penn at Columbia (Oct. 14); Princeton at Harvard (Oct. 21); Princeton at Penn (Nov. 4); Harvard at Yale (Nov. 18).

Ivy League football preseason media poll
1. (tie) Princeton (6 first-place votes), 120 points

1. (tie) Harvard (5), 120

3. Penn (5), 110

4. Yale, 71

5. Dartmouth, 60

6. Brown (1), 57

7. Columbia, 38

8. Cornell, 36