The annual Blue-White spring game drew a near-record crowd on Saturday afternoon as the Nittany Lions split in half and played themselves. The Blue team, made up primarily of first and second-stringers, came away with a dominant win despite a slow start, posting a 37-0 victory in what looked to be a defense-heavy affair in the early going.
The large crowd of 72,000 came as no surprise, but the standout performance of sophomore walk-on running back Cole Chiappialle was an eye-opener on the other hand. Chiappialle, who came to Penn State as a preferred walk-on under Bill O’Brien, led both teams in rushing yards and touchdowns. He finished the game with nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns on the ground along with two catches for 17 yards.
Chiappialle, who goes by the nickname Chip, said that he always has a chip on his shoulder in life and uses it as motivation. “I wanted to play at the highest level that I could and I knew I could play here,” he said after the game. “This game helps with confidence but I still have to remain level-heading and keep working hard all offseason.”
Christian Hackenberg wasn’t as impressive in his limited play, but he had his usual zip on the ball and his accuracy was there for the most part. His deceiving 4-for-10 with 43 yards statline doesn’t account for a long ball that slipped through Eugene Lewis’ hands and would’ve likely tacked on a touchdown and another 50 yards or so.
Michael O’Connor replaced Hackenberg for the Blue team after three drives, going 11-for-16 with 71 yards the rest of the way while taking some hard hits, as the offensive line struggled for both teams all game long. That would make sense though, considering that the line was largely the same for both teams because of depth issues.
While the crowd didn’t quite hit James Franklin’s goal of 80,000, the 72,000 fans that showed up were plenty for a spring game and will likely rank as the one of the highest spring game attendances in the nation. He joked after the game that he had a personal attendance counter that came up with a different number
“There was unbelievable support from the community, which doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Franklin said after the game. “I think it was announced at 72,000 but I had someone count personally and they came up with 82,000, so I’m appreciative of that.”
The game opened slowly, with the defense of both squads dominating through the first quarter, which ended with Blue ahead 3-0 on a 26-yard Sam Ficken field goal. That score remained the same until late in the second quarter when Chiappialle began to do some damage, scoring his first touchdown on a one-yard run to make it 10-0.
Just over a minute of game time later, Chiappialle took a snap from the White team’s 23-yard line following an interception and found a whole lot of running room on his way to another score that made it 17-0.
The second half saw more action than the first. Linebacker Matthew Baney hauled in an interception with 8:28 to go in the third quarter, taking it 28 yards to the house. The extra-point snap was poorly handled, resulting in Ficken’s kick going wide to make it 23-0.
The play of the game came on the next drive, which the Blue team started at its own 44-yard line. O’Connor took the snap before handing off to Chiappiale on what looked to be a reverse. The running back then pitched the ball to Eugene Lewis who pulled up short of the line of scrimmage on the right end of the field before lobbing the ball to a wide open Matt Zanellato who ran it in for a 56-yard score.
That play was one of many “trick” plays that the Nittany Lions broke out in the Blue-White game. Both teams called plenty of direct snaps and Wildcat-esque looks that weren’t seen very often during the O’Brien era.
“I’m not too worried about coming up with a catchy nickname,” Franklin said when asked about what he calls the formation, explaining that executing it properly is all that matters.
The game ended with the Blue team practicing a two-minute drill that resulted in a three-yard Akeel Lynch touchown run that capped off the 37-0 win.
In related news, Franklin didn’t want to make his daughters wait after being apart from them for a month, so he invited them to join him at the podium during his post-game press conference. Check out our video of one of the cutest press conference moments you’ll ever see:
- Trevor Williams, Ryan Keiser, and Matthew Baney each pulled in an interception for the Blue team.
- C.J. Olaniyan was arguably the defensive star of the game, leading all players with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 3.0 tackles for a loss.
- Kyle Carter led both teams in receptions, hauling in four passes for Blue with 34 yards. Matt Zanellato led in total receiving yards as he caught a pair of passes for 68 yards and a score.
- D.J. Crook took most of the offensive snaps for the White team, going 10-for-17 with 68 yards and a pair of picks. Austin Whipple went 1-for-6 with an interception and just seven yards.
- Chris Gulla handled the punting duties for both teams. He punted a total of 12 times for an average of 39.2 yards, but take those numbers with a grain of salt as there were no coverage teams on the field for punts.
- The yardage totals came in at 266 for Blue and 50 for White, with the latter squad rushing for -25 yards, mostly thanks to sacks and quarterback pressure.