Head coach Bill O'Brien led the Nittany Lions for the first time in front of 60,000 fans, as the Defense defeated the Offense, 77-65, in Penn State's annual Blue-White Game. (BSD/Mike Pettigano)
The defense defeated the offense today, 77-65, but as in all spring games, that doesn't even remotely matter to anyone. No, what today really symbolized was a series of individual auditions within a game context, and even more specifically, it offered an opportunity to provide some evidence to those various sectors of the fanbase that claim Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, or Matt McGloin as a favored quarterback option.
Those three did battle before an estimated crowd of 60,000, but to suggest that today's highly inconclusive results will have a significant impact on Bill O'Brien's decision is probably misguided. By his own admission, "the fans saw about 10%" of what his offense will actually entail, and even within those constraints, none of the quarterbacks did much to stand out. But because Matt McGloin started down the stretch last year, because he started this game, and because he was certainly no worse today than Jones or Bolden, there ought to be no doubt who the incumbent is heading into the summer.
Rob Bolden, though, is almost certainly running a distant third in what increasingly seems to be a two-man race; his numbers, aside from three bad interceptions, were not significantly worse than those of McGloin or Jones, but those same issues that plagued him in years past arose once again. He seemed uncomfortable in the pocket, held on to the ball too long, and still has no idea how to throw a capable screen pass. Bolden showed glimpses, especially on a consecutive pair of throws to Allen Robinson in the third quarter, but couldn't keep playing at a high level for more than a couple plays in a row.
Again, Jones and McGloin weren't much better--the former apparently doesn't know his own arm strength, consistently overthrowing receivers and, on at least one occasion, horrendously misread coverage and hit a waiting safety in the hands. McGloin, on the other hand, still has the same physical limitations of an arm that's satisfactory at best, and struggled to make multiple reads. But Jones also showed a cannon and terrific mobility, while McGloin is able to hit open receivers and get the ball out quick. It'll be interesting to see how two completely different players fight for the same job over the summer and into the fall.
I should note that Shane McGregor played very well--his first half was probably the best of any quarterback's--but, by his own admission, O'Brien isn't considering McGregor for the starting role. Sorry, Shane.
Beyond quarterbacks, few players truly stood out. Bill Belton was undoubtedly the star of the show, running for 50 yards on just 7 carries, most of which featured some shifty moves both at the line and in the open field. He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and his versatility from the RB position will mean a lot to this offense. No receiver caught more than 3 passes, but Allen Robinson looked comfortable and slippery, twice eluding a defender after making the catch and running for another 30 yards. And defensively, C.J. Olaniyan picked up 3 "sacks," prompting at least one observer to think of Courtney Brown.
But again, there were few standout performances. It's more worthwhile listing the starters, who were clearly the product of terrific springs--Donovan Smith usurped Mike Farrell at right tackle, Jesse James saw a ton of playing time at tight end over Garry Gilliam, and Curtis Drake started with Stephon Morris and Malcolm Willis in the backfield--along with Jacob Fagnano, who, after a few drives, lost his spot to Adrian Amos. Anthony Fera handled all three kicking duties, and Deion Barnes got plenty of playing time with Sean Stanley at defensive end--I didn't really notice Pete Massaro, still working his way back from that knee injury. But that defensive was so riddled with injuries that the unit that starts in four months against Ohio will only tangentially resemble this one, and the schemes will certainly be greatly different.
If pressed, I'll give the Aric Heffelfinger Memorial Award to Jesse Della Valle, who made a terrific read on a telegraphed Matt McGloin pass, and returned it most of the way. He also had a couple nice hits. The fact that I'm digging that deep should tell you how thoroughly unexceptionally most players performed today.
If you weren't in attendance, you've still got a couple hours before the Big Ten Network airs the scrimmage in its entirety, and if you've got plans tonight, don't worry--you're really not missing much.
We'll have video from the locker room up as soon as possible--probably tomorrow--and if you missed anything from the game, read through the CoverItLive stream for writer's observations, including my own. We've got a long summer ahead of us, gang, and it's going to be tempting to overanalyze based on the past couple hours. Let's try and fight that urge.
For complete stats from the game, click this link.