Penn State’s Blue-White Report Card
Penn State football’s annual Blue-White Game took place on Saturday and marked the end of the team’s spring practices.
Blue defeated White 24-7 in the scrimmage, which featured 11-minute quarters and a running clock until the final two minutes of each half. The game allows head coach James Franklin to dig deep into his roster and give back-ups and walk-ons extended opportunities to shine.
Here’s a look back at how some of the Nittany Lions performed at the Blue-White Game.
Tommy Stevens didn’t participate in Saturday’s Blue-White game due to a nagging injury, so Sean Clifford stepped up as the Blue squad’s starting quarterback.
Clifford played well to set the stage for an intense quarterback competition this summer. He completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 118 yards and a touchdown. The redshirt sophomore looked confident in the pocket, and he also showcased his improved mobility by rushing for 31 yards.
Will Levis also played well for the Blue squad. The highlight of Levis’ performance was a 59-yard score to Dan Chisena, which led to one of a few feel-good moments of the day. Outside of that, he finished the day with a modest 27 yards on three completions.
Meanwhile, Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr. ran the White team’s offense. Johnson Jr. was 4-for-4 passing, but that was the only positive of the day for White’s signal callers. Roberson struggled in the passing game with just three completions and 19 passing yards on nine attempts. Both quarterbacks combined for -12 yards on the ground.
Don’t read too much into the freshmen’s rough days. As early enrollees, there’s still plenty of time for both quarterbacks to improve and become important parts of the Penn State offense.
The Blue-White game was the first glimpse into running backs coach JaJuan Seider’s desired by-committee approach at the position this year. Journey Brown and Ricky Slade each ran for 10 yards with an admittedly-small workload. The two backs battling for the starting job combined for seven carries, and Slade scored the game’s opening touchdown.
Meanwhile, Noah Cain helped his cause at the Blue-White game. He led all rushers with 45 yards on 12 carries for both teams. He turned heads on White’s first possession of the game when he blew past Micah Parsons in the backfield and found the edge for a gain of six on his team’s first play of the game.
As head coach James Franklin noted postgame, Cain isn’t a “sexy” player, but he can beat defenders in a number of ways and be counted on for positive yardage on nearly every play. He was the only player to score multiple times on Saturday. He found the end zone on a two-yard run and an eight-yard pass.
Receivers and Tight Ends: B
Ten different wide receivers and tight ends caught passes on Saturday, which is definitely nice to see. The star of the show, however, was senior walk-on Dan Chisena.
James Franklin announced Chisena would be on scholarship after the wideout burned Keaton Ellis on a touchdown late in the third quarter. His teammates lost their minds as part of the most wholesome moment of the afternoon, but don’t think he’s just a flash in the pan. Chisena used to run track at Penn State, so his straightline speed and size (6’3″, 203 pounds) could help him be a real contributor on offense.
At tight end, Nick Bowers had a nice day with 54 receiving yards on two catches for the Blue squad. Franklin said he and Pat Freiermuth could create a “two-headed monster” at the position earlier this spring, and Saturday was definitely an encouraging sign towards that.
Early enrollee Brenton Strange had a nice game for the White team. He made three grabs for 19 yards on Saturday. Drops were still a bit of a problem early in the game, but the pass-catchers collectively got better at that as the game progressed.
Offensive Line: C+
It’s pretty difficult to assess offensive line play in a spring game, but I think the group was fine — but nothing more than that — on Saturday.
Honestly, the only thing that matters is the fact that none of the five quarterbacks who played
were treated like Christian Hackenberg in 2015 had to run for their lives much. Six sacks by the Blue team might raise concerns, but keep in mind the second-team offensive line was taking on one of college football’s better front sevens.
Elsewhere, the Blue squad only conceded one sack to early enrollee Adisa Isaac. CJ Thorpe’s transition back to the offensive side of the ball should bolster the position’s depth after losing Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates to the NFL Draft.
Front Seven: A-
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jayson Oweh was probably the star performer at defensive end on Saturday. He racked up five tackles and a sack for the Blue team, which is a promising sign for the future of Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs.
Damion Barber had a nice game at defensive tackle. He made three stops — two of which were for a loss of yardage — and recorded a sack. Penn State’s coaching staff believes the defensive front can be among the best in college football this season, and the group’s depth was on full display.
Isaac stood out among the White squad’s defensive linemen. He finished the day with three tackles, including a sack, and showcased his promise for the future. Fred Hansard also posted a sack on Saturday in his comeback from a week 7 injury against Michigan State that cost him the remainder of the 2018 season.
At linebacker, true freshman Brandon Smith finished the game with six tackles for the White squad. Only Ellis Brooks had as many in the game. Jesse Luketa also had a nice game for Blue with five tackles, indicating the position’s depth beyond the three projected starters.
Cam Brown, Jan Johnson, and Micah Parsons all played sparingly, but they also got involved with one tackle each.
Penn State’s safeties and cornerbacks were decent on Saturday, but they didn’t manage to generate any turnovers from the offense.
The low point of the game for the secondary was Dan Chisena’s 59-yard score in the third quarter. While a surprise scholarship announcement is definitely not a bad moment for anyone on the team, Ellis got burned on the play. Chisena’s an ex-track star, so him winning a 1-on-1 speed battle makes sense, but it’ll definitely serve as a teaching moment for the State High product.
Ellis actually played very well outside the Chisena touchdown. He led all defensive backs with four tackles in a starting role for the White team. James Franklin has raved about Ellis throughout the spring, and he still has an outside shot of earning snaps on defense in the regular season.
Based on Saturday’s starting lineups, Jonathan Sutherland is currently the projected starter at safety alongside the returning Garrett Taylor. Sutherland made just one tackle on Saturday, and fellow starting candidate Lamont Wade made two stops for the Blue team.
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