Stevens Leads Blue Team Past White Team in 26-0 Rout
Football returned to Happy Valley for a day on Saturday April 22nd, as nearly 71,000 fans poured into Beaver Stadium for the annual Blue-White spring game. James Franklin’s defending Big Ten champion Penn State Nittany Lions stepped onto the field for the first time since January 2nd, where the Lions suffered a devastating 52-49 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl.
“Honestly, it was not that heartbreaking of a loss because that was a great game. We gave a show; we played hard...after that loss we are going to keep working hard, stay humble, and look forward to this season,” linebacker Koa Farmer said.
The Blue Team consisted of mostly projected starters on both sides of the ball, as well as numerous reserves who should see significant time this season. The opposing White Team comprised the majority of the younger players and other reserves on the roster. The Blue team would walk away victorious on Saturday with a 26-0 rout over White.
As expected, Penn State fans did not get a glimpse of star running back Saquon Barkley on Saturday afternoon. Barkley, who is coming off a near-1500 yard and Big Ten Player of the Year season, is a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite going into next fall. RB Miles Sanders, WR Saeed Blacknall, TE Mike Gesicki, LB Jason Cabinda, and S Marcus Allen, who will all be vital contributors this season, also did not enter the game for the Lions.
After coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign, Trace McSorley started under center for the Blue Team and played the entire first half. McSorley’s numbers on the day were solid, finishing 13-21 with 114 yards. However, it was evident that McSorley still has room to improve, particularly with his consistency throwing the ball down the field. McSorley was intercepted by Ayron Monroe on a pass over the middle that sailed over DaeSean Hamilton’s head. He also had two other downfield shots that could have easily been interceptions if not for drops by Johnson and TJ Monroe.
McSorley and the offense would settle down in the second quarter, posting eight first downs and 110 yards of total offense on the way to a 6-0 halftime lead. Both Mark Allen and Andre Robinson proved early on that they have the ability to be adequate change of pace backs for Barkley this season. The potential for Juwan Johnson to break out this season and become a reliable receiving target was conspicuous, while Jonathan Holland proved he would add depth behind Gesicki at tight end.
“Holland is someone to definitely look out for this fall. He has made tremendous strides this offseason and in spring ball. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this season”, Johnson said after the game.
Jake Zembiec took the snaps for the White Team in the first half. With McSorley and Tommy Stevens established as the first and second string quarterbacks, and with talented signal-callers Sean Clifford and Justin Fields entering the program in the near future, Saturday was a critical day for Zembiec to demonstrate that he belongs on the depth chart in the future. Unfortunately, the former Elite 11 finalist failed to give the White Team any spark in his appearance. Zembiec would finish the day just 2-8 with just 13 yards. It was an abysmal day overall for the rest of the White Team offense as well, as the unit registered just 13 total yards of offense and one first down all game.
After a mostly stagnant offensive first half for the Blue Team, Tommy Stevens entered the game and put on a show in the final 22 minutes of the game. Stevens put the full repertoire on display, showing the ability to extend plays in the pocket with his feet and make accurate throws to all three levels of the field, including a textbook 50-yard rainbow to DeAndre Thompkins in the third quarter. He would finish the game 17-24 with 216 yards and 3 touchdown passes to Mark Allen, Brandon Polk, and finally to Juwan Johnson as time expired. While it is unlikely that Stevens will surpass McSorley on the depth chart, the second half of this year’s Blue-White game showed the Penn State faithful that the Nittany Lions will have two quarterbacks that can run the offense at a high level.
“I thought Tommy Stevens continued to do some really good things. We’re excited about him and his development...I am very proud of him. He has a chance to have a very bright future here,” Coach Franklin said.
Mark Allen would finish with 63 yards on 10 carries, while Robinson added another 34 yards on 8 carries. Seven different players would record receptions for the Blue Team with Holland leading the way with eight. Thompkins and Johnson would add 84 and 81 yards, respectively. The Blue Team would finish with 432 yards of total offense, while converting an impressive 9-13 third down attempts.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cam Brown, Jarvis Miller (1 TFL, 1 sack), and Jason Vranic (1.5 TFL) were all over the field for the White squad with seven tackles each. Meanwhile, the Blue Team defense would record five sacks on the afternoon. Shareef Miller continued his strong spring with two of those sacks and three tackles for loss.
By no means was Saturday a perfectly played game by either team. Even though there is an immense amount of potential for this group this upcoming season, James Franklin will be the first to say that his team has a long way to go before they can compete for another Big Ten championship and beyond.
“We still have a lot of work to do. We had a really nice year last year. We are giving the [Big Ten championship] rings out at our picnic, and then we are never going to talk about this Big Ten championship again. It’s over. Once they give the rings out we are fully onto 2017-2018...We are going to treat this team as if we have not accomplished anything,” Franklin said.
Unlike last year, Penn State will head into this season with augmented expectations. Franklin and his team plan to manifest the same approach in every situation, regardless of expectations. Only time will tell how they will respond to a season that will be Happy Valley’s most highly anticipated in many years.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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