Penn State Football: Final Spring Test Offers Few Answers
Answers to Penn State’s Blue-White Game quiz, played out Saturday before about 28,000 shivering fans in Beaver Stadium in the final spring practice test for the Nittany Lions:
No. 9-15. Yes. False. Blue, 67-47. Aric Heffelfinger.
The complete answers:
a.) No, neither quarterback – sophomore Steven Bench from Georgia and juco transfer Tyler Ferguson from California -- looked that much better, or worse for that matter, than the other. And that opens the door a little wider for incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg to earn the starting nod this fall.
b.) Both completed 9 of 15 passes, as Ferguson threw for a pair of TDs and Bench had one. And neither cracked 100 yards.
c.) Yes, redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch looks very much for real, mixing both speed and power 13 times for 83 yards, with a first-quarter one-yard touchdown dive and a long run of 27 yards.
d.) False, head coach Bill O’Brien did not need to be bleeped out when he was mic’d for an offensive series in the third quarter, although he was pretty funny: “Hey,” he said to Bench as we all listened in, “I’m on the loudspeaker now, don’t make me yell at you.”
e.) The defense, wearing blue jerseys, beat the white-uni-wearing offense, 67-47, in a scoring system that featured six points for touchdowns (there were four) and four points for sacks (of which there were nine, two each by Austin Johnston, Brad Bars and Evan Schwan). BTW: There were names on the back of those jerseys.
f.) Aric Heffelfinger was the last no-name running back to run out of nowhere (actually, Seward, Pa.) in the Blue-White Game, rushing five times for 92 yards on April 20, 2002. The last, that is, until Deron Thompson did essentially the same thing on April 20, 2013. On Saturday, the junior from Lititz ran 12 times for 97 yards and also grabbed three passes for four yards.
Not to deflate Thompson’s balloon, but in LJ’s 2002 Fall of 2,087, Heffelfinger carried just two times for a loss of a yard. In 2013 -- with Lynch, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton ahead of him on the depth chart -- Thompson’s moment in the Nittany Lion sun may have run-on and gone in the middle of an April blizzard.
Of course, injuries could say otherwise, as Saturday showed. Zwinak, after running for 16 yards and grabbing a Bench pass for 14 more, went to the sidelines after the first drive with an apparent hand injury, the extent of which O’Brien said he did not know immediately after the game. Belton, who had a 100-yard game in a real game in 2012, sat out the scrimmage with a toe injury.
Five players, each certain to be a big answer to any Penn State success in the 2013 season, which begins Aug. 31 in the Meadowlands against Syracuse, won spring practice awards. Cornerback Jordan Lucas and defensive C.J. Olaniyan shared the Jim O’Hora Award, for defensive achievement; center Ty Howle won the Red Worrell Award, for offensive achievement; and linebacker Mike Hull and guard Miles Diffenbach shared the Frank Patrick award, for total commitment.
The game, televised by the Big Ten Network, was done in 105 minutes, and among the main highlights and lowlights were, in addition to Bill’s mic:
-- A 29-yard reverse by All-Big Ten receiver Allen Robinson, who lined up on the left side, took the hand-off on the reverse to the right sideline, then doubled back for 29 yards before being tackled. It was the only touch of the contest for Robinson, who had 77 receptions for 1,013 yards in 2012.
-- Five grabs for 77 yards by tight end Jesse James; four catches for 53 yards by wide receiver Matt Zanellato; and 10 rushes for 44 yards by walk-on Dom Salamone.
-- Freshman early enrollee quarterbacks Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook accounted for a Boldenesque passing line of 3 of 10 for 11 yards, with two interceptions and four sacks.
-- Place-kicker Sam Ficken missed a 37-yard field goal and one extra-point try, but did make three PATs. In his defense, his holder was Alex Butterworth, the team’s punter who was filling in for Ficken’s usual holder, safety Ryan Keiser. (Although that argument, made in over-protective mode by O'Brien, is a bit specious; I mean, it wasn't Mrs. Butterworth taking the long snap.)
-- Johnston and Charles Idemudia led the defense in tackles, with five each, while five players had four: Albert Hall, Derek Dowrey, Gary Wooten, Brian Gaia and Malik Golden.
Bench led the Lions to scoring drives to open both the first and second halves. To start the game, the Nittany Lions went 80 yards in nine plays. That’s when Zwinak reeled off 30 yards on two touches and A-Rob had his reverse. Lynch carried three times for 10 yards, including that one-yard TD run, while Zanellato caught an 18-yarder.
To start the second half, with O’Brien mic’d to the stadium loudspeakers so everyone – including the defense – could hear, Bench led the offense 65 yards in 10 plays. He twice connected with James, on completions of 21 and nine yards, and threw a 13-yarder to Zanetello, who also ran for nine yards. Bench completed the drive with a six-yard scoring toss to tight end Brent Wilkerson.
Ferguson’s two scoring passes culminated drives of 80 and 65 yards. His first TD pass came in the second quarter, on a 27-yard fade to James in the back corner of the north end zone after defensive back Jordan Smith slipped on the play. Ferguson came back again in the third quarter, throwing to the other side of the field on a five-yard out to Richy Anderson.
Additional Blue-White Coverage: