Takeaways: Blue-White 2015
Though the White team put up a fight (thanks mostly to the heroics of Nick Scott), the 2015 Blue-White game finished as most expected, with a dominating 17-7 win for starter-heavy Blue in front of 68,000 fans. Christian Hackenberg threw for a cool 180 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-29 passing, while Akeel Lynch did plenty to cast aside any doubts about his ability to carry the load as the team’s starting back, cruising for 50 yards and a score.
Here’s what we learned about the Nittany Lions during the annual scrimmage:
It was a perfect day for football
The weather was so phenomenal at Beaver Stadium on Saturday that it warrants its own section. With highs in the mid to low 70s and a moderate breeze blowing from the northwest, you couldn’t ask for a more picture perfect day. Fans packed the parking lots and fields surrounding the stadium beginning in the early morning, capitalizing on the extra few hours of tailgating with the new 4 p.m. kickoff.
— Onward State (@OnwardState) April 18, 2015
Of course, if you give students another three hours to party, they’re going to take it to the next level.
Akeel Lynch and the running game will be just fine
Whenever a new starting running back takes over, there’s always going to be question marks surrounding his ability to tote the rock. Following an impressive sophomore year at Penn State, where he led the team in rushing (678 yards) and yards per carry (4.6), Akeel Lynch was poised to become the Nittany Lions next great ball carrier. With another impressive Blue-White performance in the books, he’s proved himself to be just that; the type of all-around player Penn State needs in the backfield. Lynch finished the day with 50 yards rushing on just nine carries, including an impressive 22-yard scamper for the game’s first touchdown.
The real question mark heading into the spring was who would grab the backup slot, a position Lynch anchored over the last two seasons. Redshirt freshman Nick Scott catapulted himself into the conversation with an electrifying 52-yard run for White’s only score of the game, eluding the bear hug of first team All-Big Ten selection Anthony Zettel and bouncing off would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone. Outside of his headline grabbing run, Scott flashed great speed and elusiveness between the tackles en route to a game-high 77 total yards.
Though Mark Allen was limited to just 7 yards on four carries, Franklin once again praised the redshirt freshman for his effort this spring, and said he’s “excited” about what Brandon Johnson has to offer, a former walk-on the second-year coach called “the best athlete on the team” prior to spring practice. Jonathan Thomas was kept on the sideline, but with the addition of highly-rated prospects Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson this summer, Penn State’s running game is built for the future.
Don’t worry about the quarterbacks and the offensive line
The two most maligned groups on any football team, not just Penn State’s, is the quarterback and offensive line. It’s easy to point to the continuing struggle of the front five with the five sacks Hackenberg “suffered,” but consider the quality of their opponent. Penn State’s defense was among the best in the country last season, dominating the line of scrimmage en route to the second-best defensive yards per carry mark in the country. And that front four lived in the backfield too, finishing with the third-highest “stuff rate” (percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage) in 2014, according to Football Outsiders. Struggling to block Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, and a deep defensive line unit is not cause for deep concern. After an offseason of work with a summer of practice still to come, the offensive line is still miles ahead of where it was this time last season.
Franklin on the offensive line: “I think we’re way ahead of where we were at this time last year.”
— Onward Sports (@OnwardStSports) April 18, 2015
Moving to the quarterback position, Tommy Stevens struggled in his first Penn State appearance, completing just 3-of-11 passes for 19 yards. The true freshman was called upon to face most of the starting defense just a few months removed from high school, so let’s pump the brakes before we call him a bust. Also consider the fact that Stevens was throwing to second-team receivers and Penn State’s defense likely knew the play before it was called, it’s clear why the greenhorn had a hard time finding receivers.
Although freshman quarterbacks have impressed recently in college football (Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston), it takes time to learn a new scheme, read defenses, and develop rapport with receivers. Stevens certainly didn’t inspire confidence with his performance, but he’s still raw, and only figures to improve as Hackenberg’s understudy.