Blue-White Game Preview: What to Watch For
Beaver Stadium is the site of Penn State’s 15th and final spring practice, affectionately known as the Blue-White game, tomorrow.
While the weekend brings alumni back to Happy Valley and puts fans in the stadium for the first time time in five months, it is important to keep Saturday’s game in perspective. For fans, it is their first opportunity to get a glimpse of the 2013 Nittany Lions. The players take the game seriously, especially with the offense versus defense format for the second consecutive year, but this is not Bill O’Brien’s first view of his team — far from it.
O’Brien has presided over 14 organized practices leading up to the final installment of spring ball and spent a ton of time with players and coaches in meeting rooms and watching film that will tell much more than 60 minutes of spring football. It is easy and tempting to over-analyze what happens tomorrow. With that said, the game does present some interesting story lines that can provide some insight about the Nittany Lions. Below are five things to keep an eye on:
- Quarterback Competition — Let’s get it out of the way from the start. Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson split reps evenly all spring. There were some highs and lows along the way, but overall, the battle is pretty even. More importantly than statistics, how comfortable do both signal-callers look in the pocket? Are the snap exchanges with new center Ty Howle smooth? The stuff that happens behind the scenes will have more of an influence on O’Brien’s decision than what happens on the field tomorrow, but both quarterbacks will have a chance to prove something in front of the Nittany Lion faithful.
- Nyeem Wartman — The promising redshirt freshman returns to the field for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Week 2 against Virginia last fall. Wartman has received great reviews from everyone this spring including starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson and senior safety Malcolm Willis. Wartman proved he could be a playmaker in last year’s season opener when he blocked a second quarter punt against Ohio deep in Bobcats territory. Fan favorites Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges will not be easy to replace, but the outside linebacker can put some minds at ease with a good showing tomorrow.
- Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis — Speaking of redshirt freshmen, Lynch and Lewis will play in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd for the first time in their careers. Lewis, the receiver, was the Nittany Lions’ highest rated recruit in their 2012 signing class. Lynch, a running back, also came to Penn State with high expectations. With good size and speed, both are expected to be major contributors on offense and could provide some fireworks tomorrow afternoon.
- Young Defensive Backs — Senior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is recovering from a shoulder injury and is not expected to play tomorrow. Willis and Adrian Amos should see some action, but O’Brien, defensive coordinator John Butler, and safeties coach Anthony Midget know what they have in their veteran players. Tomorrow is about giving converted wide receivers Malik Golden and Trevor Williams plenty of reps along with rising sophomores Jordan Lucas and Da’Quan Davis. The Nittany Lions are looking for a fourth starter in the secondary to replace Stephon Morris at cornerback. The job will not be decided tomorrow, but it will serve as good experience for several players going up against a solid group of receivers.
- Special Teams — Despite Sam Ficken making 10 consecutive field goals to conclude the 2012 campaign, Penn State’s special teams were poor last year overall. Alex Butterworth only averaged 37.8 yards per punt, coverage teams were poor, and Ficken was 0-3 on attempts beyond 40 yards. O’Brien may want to tone back his aggressiveness tomorrow and give this unit plenty of chances, including Ficken from long range. It is almost impossible to simulate field goals in game situations, but this will be their best chance to do so before heading to MetLife Stadium on August 31st.
These are not the only intriguing angles. Some battles along the defensive line and the chance to see some young tight ends in action present a few additional plot lines.
Just keep things in perspective. If the Blue-White game decided jobs and dictated future performance, Paul Jones and Shawney Kersey would have been setting records as opposed to Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson. Some tidbits can be learned, but when the scoreboard displays all zeros, so does the Nittany Lions’ record.