With QB Alek Torgersen playing smarter, Penn is playing better

Penn’s Alek Torgersen was the Ivy League's second-leading passer last season with 2,689 yards.(University of Pennsylvania Athletics)

Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen throws less and enjoys it more. As a result, the Quakers are on a roll.

Penn inserted itself into the Ivy League championship equation with a balanced, productive offense and a quarterback working his way up the school record book, heading into Saturday’s game against longtime rival Princeton, at Franklin Field.

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“As a quarterback, you want to throw the ball a lot,” Torgersen said, “but you’ve got to understand that the game’s not about just throwing it. It’s about grinding it out and an all-around game. Yeah, stats are nice to have, but wins are more important in the end. The offense we have right now is real efficient moving the ball.”

The Quakers (4-3, 3-1 Ivy) have won three in a row for the first time since 2012. They’ve scored at least 30 points in four consecutive games in the same season for the first time since the 2002 Ivy League champs.

In those three wins, Torgersen has completed 68.6% of his passes (59-for-86) for 842 yards and 10 touchdowns, with no interceptions. For the season, he has completed 110 of 160 passes, for 1,378 yards and 14 touchdowns, with just two interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 101 attempts, dating back to the first half against Villanova on Sept. 24.

“He’s played pretty well,” said Penn quarterbacks coach Dan Swanstrom, “but our expectations are so high for him. There’s so much room for improvement and room for him to grow, that even though he’s played pretty well, we don’t think he’s approached the kind of player he can be.”

Torgersen, a junior from Huntington Beach, Calif., is out of central casting — 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, with a strong arm, good athletic ability and a quick study.

“Unique,” Swanstrom called his skill set.

Torgersen won the starting job last season as a sophomore and flung it all over the field, out of necessity as much as ability. The Quakers’ running game was limited by injury, and they had quality receivers and tight ends.

Torgersen led the Ivy and was third in the nation, with 26 completions per game. He set the school record for pass attempts in a season (421) and was second in completions (260). He set single-game records for completions (40) and attempts (61) one year ago against Princeton in a 22-17 loss. Put it this way: if he comes close to duplicating last year’s performance against the Tigers (5-2, 2-2 Ivy), something is amiss.

Under first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan, the Quakers are almost 50-50 run-pass balanced. In last week’s 48-28 win against Brown, Torgersen was a modest 15-of-22 passing for 196 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s a testament to our (offensive) line,” Torgersen said. “They’re playing well, allowing us to have a good run game, a strong run game. Without them, we’re not going to be able to move the ball. It’s really been successful and helpful for my passing game, because teams just aren’t sitting back expecting the pass on every play.”

Swanstrom has seen an uptick in Torgersen’s dedication to the craft.

“He’s such a talented guy that I think there were times when he got by on pure ability,” Swanstrom said. “We want to see the kind of commitment necessary to become a better player at this level, and we’re seeing that. Something that might have taken him two or three minutes to pick up on film, he sees it right away now, which allows us to work a lot more efficiently.”

Torgersen’s to-do list for this season included cutting down on turnovers and being more efficient. After sustaining a concussion against Dartmouth and missing last month’s game against  Fordham, he is determined to be on the field and to do whatever necessary to help his team win.

“I take a lot more pride in film study and all that kind of stuff, off the field,” Torgersen said. “Being a smarter football player, as opposed to a better football player. Being smarter with the ball, smarter with my reads, all the things that go along with playing quarterback.”

Above: Penn’s Alek Torgersen is focusing on being a smarter quarterback. (Courtesy of Penn Athletics)
Dave Fairbank

Dave Fairbank

Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer based in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.