So, we all watched the Blue/White game on Saturday. Or, if you didn't, you at least read Cari's recap, and now you're getting absurdly excited about Cole Chiappialle and Matt Baney. Don't worry, I'm not here to harsh your buzz. Those guys are totally leading Penn State to an undefeated season in 2014. You heard it here first.
But what did your humble bloggers glean from the glorified scrimmage? Well, we're gonna tell you.
What did you take away from the Blue/White Game?
Cari: Penn State football is back! Yes, we have serious offensive line and overall depth issues. But there's such an energy and positivity surrounding the program that was so tangible at Beaver Stadium for Blue White. It's not just recruits and current players who are buying into what Franklin and Co are selling--it's lettermen, and alumni, and fans. Everyone's so excited about the future of Nittany Lion football, and the excitement is palpable. The sleeping giant has been reawakened, and 72k fans were there for the first step.
bscaff: You have one of the top QBs in college foosball, and you actively plan to bring him to the sideline so that you can put Bill Belton at QB. Why? Does Billy have a better arm? Is he more accurate than Hack? Oh that's right - Billy can run the football. And "the spread"...how did you phrase it...is "the only scheme where we have 11 on 11". So obviously a quarterback is useless. Roll outs, bootlegs, and play action don't afford you any advantages over a defense. Only "the spread" can do that. Got it.
Bill: That sunburn sucks. Not as important: I learned that this year's offense will probably have a lot more wrinkles than any other Penn State offense. We only got a small taste of what this current staff wants to do, but look at all the stuff we saw. Hack took several shots down field (which isn't unusual but it was a spring game, where you never see anyone do anything cool schematically ever). We saw a double end-around that ended with Geno Lewis throwing for a touchdown. We saw the Wildcat. There are so many things that we have never seen before, or have only seen in a limited capacity, that are now part of the Nittany Lion offense. I'm titillated by the thought of what we're gonna see once the playbook is completely opened up. Also, we saw again that Trevor Williams may be the greatest spring game player of all time.
Jared: My biggest take away from the Blue-White Game is a great deal of concern about the offensive line. I knew coming in that they were the biggest question mark on the team as they needed to count on many inexperienced players- but what I saw made me worry that we may have to suffer through a difficult 2014 before things start to get better. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for the younger guys on the line to improve. Heck, Brian Gaia and Derek Dowery have been offensive linemen for just a few weeks. Both of those players could be major contributors this fall, but it's way too early to pass judgement. I would not be surprised at all to see Gaia become a starter at some point during the season, and excelling as an interior linemen. Even though we should see an improved line by August 30, it's hard to be optimistic about our chances against a team like Ohio State that will field an exceptional defensive line in 2014.
Me: So, James Franklin clearly structured it so that there wasn't going to be much to take away. The starters only played a few series, if they played at all, and enough players were held out that even in those few series, we didn't see much of what this team is going to look like in the fall. But man, Christian Hackenberg better stay healthy. He didn't look great in his own right, completing just 4/10 passes, for the nothing that's worth, but Michael O'Connor, D.J. Crook, and Austin Whipple are nowhere near ready to step in, should the unthinkable happen. Breaking in a young group of receivers will be a lengthy and, at times, a frustrating experience for Hack--see: Geno Lewis failing to haul in a perfectly thrown bomb down the seam--but this year will lay the groundwork for success in his upperclassman years. If anything goes wrong--and behind this offensive line, it just might--2014 is going to be a looooooong season.
What were you hoping to see in the Blue/White Game, but didn't?
Cari: As nice as it was to see Chip have a good game, I really wanted to see more clarity at the RB position--and that definitely didn't happen, since Zwinak was held out, Belton had one carry, and Lynch was limited. With as much talk as there's now been that we have four RBs, in reality we have the same (good) three that we did last year--and we have no idea, still, who of those three will see the most time (though, based on seniority, it likely isn't Akeel).
Jared: I'm extremely curious how the running back situation will be handled by the new coaching staff, as well as seeing if the main three returning RBs were able to improve on their weaknesses from 2013. Will Zach Zwinak be able to protect the football better? If so, the starting job should be his. Did Bill Belton gain more strength and adopt a more physical running style? A little more strength could take his game to an entirely new level. Has Akeel Lynch improved his pass blocking? He could be Penn State's most complete back by improving on one major weakness. But alas, not much was answered. It makes sense to limit their carries and keep them healthy (as well as the defenders who would have tried to tackle Zwinak), so it looks like we'll have to wait until the fall to get these answers.
Bill: I really wanted to see more out of Geno Lewis, Matt Zanellato, and Richy Anderson working with Christian Hackenberg. Both Zanellato and Anderson caught two balls, Zanellato for 68 yards (although 56 of them came on the end-around bomb by Lewis), while Anderson only had 16. Lewis, meanwhile, didn't catch a pass. I'm petrified going into next year about Penn State's WR situation going into next year, and I really wanted to see if anyone had begun establishing a report with Hack. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Oh well. Just need to wait until the fall.
Me: The only guys who played the entire game were the special teams units, and I was disappointed to see that this unit might continue to be an Achilles Heel. Sam Ficken hit his only field goal attempt--a chip-shot 26 yarder--but botched an extra point. If he's not going to liability in 2014, that's not a good sign. And I was excited that Chris Gulla--or anyone, really--was replacing Alex Butterworth, but he was extremely spotty throughout his extended playing time, and didn't kick and particularly booming punts. It looks like James Franklin is going to take special teams seriously--he used Anthony Zettel as a personal protector on the punt team, and rotated starters like Jordan Lucas onto the return team. But if the two kickers are going to be untrustworthy again, it's just a matter of time before that unit costs Penn State another game.
bscaff: Having watched Vandy games for the We Are 2014 super preview, I hoped I wouldn't see a ton of shotgun spread. But that dream was crushed in the first series.
Hey brah, I don't hate the spread scheme. I think it's a brilliant way to help disadvantaged schools level the playing field. "Disadvantaged", in this instance, means schools with limited or no access to 300-lbers who possess decent feet. You know these teams - the MAC schools, the SunBelt, and all of the fringe big conference squads: Maryland, Rutgers, Arizona, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Wazzu, etc. If you're one of those schools, by all means, pork away pal. A spread attack is about your only shot at beating PSU, Bama, LSU, Florida, Ohio State, et.al., who are typically all bigger, faster, and stronger than you.
Toledo, other than in 2000, isn't going to roll into Beaver Stadium and blow Penn State's defensive line four yards off the ball. They generally won't have the offensive tackles to pass protect for 3 seconds, either. So they deploy 4 and 5 receivers across the length of the field to empty the box and create one-on-one option football in the run game; and, occasionally they toss the ball to the sideline for another one-on-one or WR screen. Yada, yada, yada, the nine or ten fat guys in the center of the field are little more than blocking dummies. It suddenly matters far less that Penn State fields Jared Odrick at DT and Tamba Hali at DE, because the ball won't be in the center of the field for more than a second after the snap anyhow.
That's not football to me. Football is supposed to be a contest of wills. It's about toughness, both physical and mental. And the spread's design attempts to avoid the physical aspect by turning football into a skeleton drill. That blows. Worse, I believe teams who employ the spread show the same traits on the defensive side as well. Spread teams ruin practice and camp for both sides of the ball. Your defense sees the pansy spread all year long, 5 days a week in practice. Eventually, the defense's toughness disappears, the same as the offense's. And on Saturdays, we're left with little more than shootyhoops on grass. That's fine if you're Akron, because it's your only chance to win. But I hate it for Penn State.
So long, Linebacker U. Hello, RichRod.
Way to piss in everyone's cheerios, bscaff. But everyone else: What were your takeaways from Saturday's game?