Spring Game Recap: Offense
Just five months removed from capping off a memorable 2012 campaign with a 24-21 OT victory over Wisconsin, the Penn State football team returned to Beaver Stadium this afternoon for the annual Blue White spring game. As was the case last year in Bill O’Brien’s inaugural spring game, the game pitted the offense (White) against the defense (Blue) with a revised scoring system. Numerous starters were held out of this afternoon’s scrimmage with the defense winning 67-47. In part one of the Blue White recap, we’ll focus on the offense for the Nittany Lions.
Quarterback: The biggest position battle heading into spring practice was at quarterback between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson, the junior-college transfer out of California. With incoming freshman Christian Hackenburg not set to enroll until the summer, the spring battle was limited to Bench and Ferguson.
Each played fairly well today completing 9-15 each. Ferguson threw for 90 yards and two touchdowns while Bench had 99 yards with a touchdown of his own.
They each bring a little bit of a different approach with their style of play. Bench displayed his athletic ability on a few occasions showing the ability to get outside of the pocket and make plays on the run. Where his game is lacking is the area of greatest strength for Ferguson, which is arm strength.
Ferguson connected with Jesse James for a 27-yard touchdown in which he showed off the ability to air the ball out downfield. The JUCO transfer has a stronger arm than Bench, but needs to develop more pocket presence and improve on his footwork. He mishandled a snap from center Wendy Laurent in his first possession at quarterback.
It’s safe to say that neither quarterback has separated themselves from one another, and Bill O’Brien alluded after the game that Hackenburg will have every opportunity to start come August.
Running Back: With Bill Belton being sidelined with an ankle injury and Zach Zwinak taking a helmet to the wrist on his first carry, fans got their first glimpses of redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch.
Lynch capped the White team’s opening drive with a one-yard touchdown run, and finished with 83 yards on 13 carries. The Toronto, Ontario native showed the ability to explode through the line of scrimmage recording three runs of 10 yards or more in the second quarter.
He has great combination of balance, power and speed that will be pivotal for the Nittany Lions this season. Walk-on Deron Thompson led the White team in rushing with 97 yards on 12 attempts including a game-long 41-yard rush in the third quarter.
Wide Receiver: All-Big Ten wide receiver Allen Robinson saw a limited number of plays, but flashed that tremendous athletic on the White team’s opening drive with a 27 yard run to put the offense inside the red zone.
On the play, Robinson appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage before reversing field and picking up 27 down the left sideline. He was only targeted once as Bench overshot him down the left sideline on the game’s opening play.
One guy many people looked forward to seeing in action for the first time was redshirt freshman wide out Geno Lewis. After receiving rave reviews last year as a member of the scout team, Lewis enters the 2013 season with the possibility of being the Nittany Lions’ second option at receiver behind Robinson.
Lewis snagged a one-handed out-route from Ferguson early in the first quarter and demonstrated his ability as blocker when he helped spring Lynch for 27 yard run in the second quarter.
Junior Matt Zanellato was the statistical leader amongst the receivers grabbing four receptions for 53 yards. True freshman Richy Anderson, who enrolled in December and impressed throughout spring practice caught three passes for 17 yards including a touchdown. Anderson’s spring performance was enough to give O’Brien enough trust to move former receiver Trevor Williams to the defensive side of the ball.
Tight Ends: Penn State boasts arguably the best tight end corps in the country heading in to 2013. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Carter remains sidelined with a wrist injury he suffered last year against Nebraska, and senior Matt Lehman was held out of action today as well.
Their absences only highlighted the ever-growing abilities of sophomore Jesse James. In the second quarter, James beat Jordan Smith on a go-route and Ferguson found him in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. He finished as the team’s leading receiver with 5 receptions for 77 yards and that one touchdown.
At James’ size and speed, he is a match-up nightmare for defenses and the Blue team had no answer for him all afternoon. Redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson added another touchdown for the White squad when Bench found him on the first possession of the second half.
Offensive Line: O’Brien held out most of the starting offensive line for the majority of the game. Despite playing second and third stringers, the Nittany Lions racked up 255 yards on the ground without Belton or Zwinak.
Running backs had holes to run through all afternoon, so the line held it’s own in that regard. O’Brien couldn’t be happy with the pass protection, however, as all four of the quarterbacks faced pressure throughout the game. The defense picked up at least six sacks, which will be an area of concern going forward to Penn State.
Stay tuned for quotes from the game and a recap of the defense's performance.
Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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