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Penn’s offense discovering its balance for Ivy League play

Penn's passing game has allowed the offense to become one of the most balanced attacks in the Ivy league.

Penn wide receiver Rory Starkey Jr. in action last weekend against Sacred Heart.
Penn wide receiver Rory Starkey Jr. in action last weekend against Sacred Heart.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

The Penn offense is in good hands at running back. Senior Karekin Brooks is leading the FCS, averaging 157.3 rushing yards.

Brooks’ 5.93 yards per carry would break the Penn record of 5.68 set by Chris Flynn in 1988.

“He just continues to amaze,” coach Ray Priore said. “He’s our playmaker. We need to get the ball in his hands as much as we can.”

Brooks’ success at running back isn’t much of a surprise after back-to-back seasons of more than 800 yards. However, wide receivers Ryan Cragun and Rory Starkey Jr. have added a new element.

Penn’s offense scored a season-low 15 points two weeks ago against Dartmouth without Cragun, the team’s leading receiver.

Cragun returned last week against Sacred Heart, and Starkey Jr. emerged as another target for quarterback Nick Robinson. The result was a 38-24 win over the Pioneers. The 38 points marked a season high for the Quakers.

Starkey Jr., who also had battled injuries, caught eight passes for 129 yards against Sacred Heart.

“That was great to see [Starkey Jr.] on the scene,” Priore said.

Senior Kolton Huber is also a consistent target for Robinson. Huber has had three catches in three of the first four games.

Last season, the Quakers offense produced one 100-yard receiver in 10 games. Cragun and Starkey Jr. already have combined for three.

The continued success of Brooks running the ball and the emergence of the receivers have helped Robinson at quarterback. He has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception this season. In his last three games, he has thrown 107 passes without an interception.

“Nick Robinson continues to do a really good job managing the game,” Priore said. “He gets the ball thrown out of bounds when he needs to. He stays on schedule.”

An elite rushing attack and playmakers at wide receiver will make things even easier for Robinson and harder for opposing defenses. It’s the type of offense that Priore said would give him “nightmares” as a defensive coach.

“We have weapons. If you load the box and try to take away the run, we can throw the ball to Kolton Huber, Ryan, R.J. [Starkey Jr.] and all these other guys,” Priore said.

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy League) will travel to Columbia (1-3, 0-1) for a 1:30 p.m. game Saturday. The Quakers are 21-1 against the Lions since 1997, the loss coming two years ago in overtime in New York, and haven’t lost back-to-back games at Columbia since 1979 and 1981.