Football returns to Happy Valley and Beaver Stadium as Penn State hits the field for its annual Blue-White game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The Nittany Lions squad that will tear up the turf Saturday will be much different than the squad that took the field on senior day in the fall for Penn State.
Gone is record-setting quarterback and NFL prospect Christian Hackenberg, as well as defensive tackle Austin Johnson, who both left school early to enter the NFL Draft. Gone, too, are seniors Angelo Mangiro, Kyle Carter, Ben Kline, Carl Nassib, Matt Zanellato and Anthony Zettel. Also gone are coaches John Donovan, Herb Hand and Bob Shoop.
“The Blue-White Weekend is such a huge weekend here all around the university,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I think the spring game is a good opportunity to see how guys are going to be in that type of environment. It’s important to see how guys are going to react in that stadium before the first game this year.”
New-Look Nittany Lions
Franklin enters his third Blue-White game as the head coach with a completely revamped offense under the direction of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Moorhead’s fast-paced offensive flood system will look to improve this year after a year of struggles under Donovan’s spread system.
Leading the way for the new offensive system will be the offensive line, which will also be lead by a new face in coach Matt Limegrover. Limegrover takes over for Hand (who departed for Auburn) after previously being at Minnesota, where Limegrover produced offensive lines that were in the top-40 nationally in tackle-for-loss statistics.
Under center for the Nittany Lions will be a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2013, Hackenberg’s freshman season. A battle for that spot is ongoing.
Also being retooled this spring was a defensive line that lost impact players in Johnson, Zettel and Nassib.
Since being riddled with sanctions by the NCAA in 2012, Penn State’s depth has been questionable at best. This spring, the Nittany Lions hit the practice field with the deepest team they have had since 2011.
An offensive line that has been abysmal in previous years returns all but one starter for the 2016 season and has a new leader (Limegrover) looking to get the ball moving and keep the quarterback protected.
As far as skill positions go, running back and wide receiver provide a great deal of depth in comparison to previous years. Penn State returns two 1,000-yard receivers in DaeSean Hamilton (2014) and Chris Godwin (2015) who will be showcased in the Blue-White game. Saquon Barkley returns to a Nittany Lion backfield for the spring game after amassing 1,076 rushing yards last fall. Joining Barkley in the backfield for the spring will be Mark Allen, while all-state recruit Miles Sanders will join the backfield when the high school senior steps foot on campus in the fall.
The quarterback position is where the biggest question mark lies for Penn State on offense. Franklin has not named a definitive starter, however, performance in the Blue-White game will be sure to help that decision. Trace McSorley, who played the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl for an injured Hackenberg, is the only quarterback amongst freshman Tommy Stevens and Jake Zembiec with any collegiate experience.
The defensive front seven will be young — the Nittany Lions had to replace upper-classmen in Zettel, Nassib and Johnson — and will be led by new defensive coordinator Brent Pry. Freshman Kevin Givens moved from defensive end to defensive tackle in the offseason and looks to be a key player for Penn State in the spring and the fall. The health of linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White will be something to monitor as he returns from a leg injury.
All of the starters in the secondary will return for the Nittany Lions this spring, and former running back Nick Scott has been added to their unit.
What to Watch For
The Blue-White game serves as the first-look for fans to see the new offense that was installed in the offseason. It also serves as an opportunity to see where the quarterback competition is and a gauge of where it will go.
Seeing the offensive line in game action will be a focal point as well, now that they are under new direction. Being able to see any improvement or lack thereof will be integral to how the offense grows this summer and fall.
The game will be business as usual for the most part, with four 12-minute quarters, a 20-minute halftime and media timeouts in each quarter. The game clock will be a running clock with stoppages coming with possession change and called penalties.
The team buses will arrive at 10:30 a.m with parking lots for fans opening at 8 a.m. Following the arrival of the team buses, a player autograph session will be held from 11:15 a.m. -12:05 p.m.
Gates open at 12:30 p.m. with kickoff scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
Following the Blue-White game, Penn State will take the field next in their season-opening game September 3, against Kent State at Beaver Stadium.
Image credit: Ben Stanfield