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Blue-White Game 2013: Offensive Preview

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The PSU 2013 spring game takes place this Saturday...BSD gives you an idea of what to look out for on offense.

Rob Carr

For most of my life, as a Penn State football fan, whenever our defense was on the field, I was content. I was confident, and I knew that (most of the time, at least) we’d be able to do a decent job of containing whatever it was that the opposing offense threw at us. For much of my fandom, the same couldn’t be said of our offense; aside from 2008’s prolific lineup of Clark/Williams/Norwood/Butler, we’ve been solidly vanilla, and for the past few years, without a necessary solid quarterback to execute game plans. I’d hide my eyes more often than not for offensive possessions, waiting for the D to get us back on the field and get us good field position so the offense wouldn’t have to do quite so much.

Then Bill O’Brien came to Happy Valley.

Most of us knew we’d have a change on offense; after all, O’Brien was an offense guy, and the Patriots were prolific under his tutelage. But few of us could have guessed how impressive our offense would turn out to be, especially with a signal caller in Matt McGloin that had previously proven to be underwhelming at best. What transpired on the offensive side of the ball this past season was inspired, and makes me rethink the hiding of my face in my hat during possessions—and for me, that’s saying quite a bit.

This spring, not much has changed for the Penn State offense; not much, that is, except for the guy who presumably will run it all—the quarterback. McGloin leaves behind impressive stats and his name in the record books, and the only in the QB position this spring who’s seen time in blue and white is sophomore Steven Bench, who was 2 of 8 for 12 yards and a sack. For the entire season. It seems as though it wouldn’t be a Penn State spring, however, if there wasn’t a quarterback controversy brewing (in recent memory, on 2009 excepted).

Competing with Bench this spring for starting reps is JuCo transfer redshirt sophomore Tyler Ferguson, who enrolled in January after fellow transfer Jake Waters somewhat surprisingly decided to suit up for the fighting Bill Snyders. Ferguson transferred from the College of the Sequoias, having racked up decent numbers for a team that went 4-6 on the season—he was 199 of 358 (55.6%) for 2614 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Clearly without a lot of help, he was sacked 30 times in ten games, most likely something he won’t need to be used to if he sees time as a Nittany Lion.

All press out of the spring indicates that Bench and Ferguson are splitting reps evenly, and are both looking good doing so. Looking good in practice, and even in the spring game, doesn’t necessarily mean much, though; just as Paul Jones, who continually impressed in spring games, and last year’s record setter McGloin—who continually did not.

The quarterback discussion is pretty moo, however, if there aren’t pieces around the quarterback to make breaking him in that much easier—and luckily, that’s where most Penn State fans are giddy as all get out in anticipation. Reportedly, the offense has progressed so much that they’ve actually expanded the offensive playbook this summer—despite not knowing who the quarterback will be. That expanded playbook, however, most likely won’t be in full evidence in the spring game, and neither will most of the returning superstars on the team; rather, we’ll see some names we’ve never seen before, and might never see much of again.

In terms of starters, gone for this spring are two offensive linemen: starting center Matt Stankiewitch and guard Mike Farrell. Also lost is fullback Michael Zordich, and the aforementioned McGloin. And while not small losses by any means (Zordich’s heart, drive and leadership in particular will surely be missed), it seems, barring unexpected transfers, that’s it. We’ll have eight returning starters, including the Big Ten wide receiver of the year and a freshman of the year candidate. That ain’t too shabby.

Of course, it all starts up front, and while we’re losing two major contributors, the guys behind them aren’t insignificant themselves. The only guys who’ve seemed to solidify their starting status are redshirt sophomore tackle Donovan Smith, redshirt senior center Ty Howle, and resident genius/redshirt senior guard John Urschel; look for a rotation of senior Eric Shrive, redshirt junior Miles Dieffenbach, senior Adam Gress, redshirt sophomore Angelo Mangiro and new-redshirt-junior-tackle Garry Gilliam (who might be limited this spring due to injury) to see time. Throughout the blue-white game, we will likely see even more of redshirt freshman Wendy Laurent, redshirt sophomore Anthony Alosi and redshirt freshman Anthony Stanko.

In addition to taking care of whichever signal caller is in, the hogs will be blocking for a trio of running backs, all of whom will likely see significant time in the backfield: junior Bill Belton, redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch and returning 1,000 yard rusher and redshirt junior Zach Zwinak, who is the early anointed started and as such will likely see the least amount of time on Saturday. Lynch, as a player with ostensibly more to "prove" than the other two, may see the bulk of the playing time, but while our running backs are very good, we’re not too deep at that position. I’m expecting O’Brien to opening up the passing playbook this weekend, and limit the running to keeping the defense honest.

In terms of the passing playbook, have you heard of this guy? He’s pretty awesome. You should check him out.

An early pick for being once again the best wideout in the conference, junior Allen Robinson will most likely not see much time in the blue-white game—at this point, what else does he have to prove? Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder will take a decent number of snaps, along with redshirt junior Alex Kenney, redshirt sophomore Matt Zannellato and redshirt freshman Eugene "Geno" Lewis. The wildcards are legacies redshirt freshman Jonathan Warner and freshman Richy Anderson, the latter of whom might redshirt in the fall due to the great depth at this position. You’ll notice a distinct change of names at wide receiver this spring, as both significant 2012 backup sophomoreTrevor Williams and redshirt freshman Malik Golden have switched to defense, provided much needed depth on that side of the ball.

Lastly, the tight ends. Everyone, opposing coaches, players and fans alike, seemed surprised and O’Brien’s use and integration of the tight ends that were already on the squad last year—but looking back, they shouldn’t have been. And the great news is that, in addition to the return of all-Big Ten then-freshman (now sophomore) Kyle Carter, then-freshman All-American honorable mention (now sophomore)Jesse James and former walk-on senior Matt Lehman, redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson has been having a great spring camp—and, oh yeah, there’s this somewhat well-known true freshman Adam Breneman. You may have heard of him; he should be good for years to come—but will likely sit out the spring game, still in recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the fall.

Most springs, the talk is how good the defense looks—as traditionally, defense progresses at a faster pace than their offensive counterparts. What might be the most interesting this Saturday is not how the offense looks in and of itself…but rather, how it stacks up to a reloading traditional Penn State defense.

For Cari’s take on special teams headed into the Blue-White game, look here.

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