Penn State's Lynch makes strong first impression at Blue-White game
UNIVERSITY PARK — The battle to start at quarterback likely will be wide open when highly touted freshman Christian Hackenberg joins the competition. Adrian Amos is moving from cornerback to safety. And redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch has the look of a go-to guy — on the field and in the media room.
Those were three notable developments from a generally yawn-inspiring Blue-White scrimmage Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Lynch rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on an April day that produced a wintry mix, showing that he will be a factor this fall.
Lynch and walk-on Deron Thompson (12 carries, 97 yards) received the bulk of the carries. Bill Belton didn't play because of an injured toe, and starter Zach Zwinak left the game early after sustaining an undisclosed injury.
Lynch showcased his speed and power in the offense's 67-47 loss to the defense in front of an estimated crowd of 28,000. He also distinguished himself during his first appearance in the media room.
Lynch is engaging and comfortable as the center of attention, and he took a unique path to Penn State.
He lived in Toronto until he was 16, and college football is so obscure in Canada's largest city that Lynch said he is sometimes asked which state Penn State is in when he returns home. He told his mother he wanted to try football after seeing an NFL game on TV as a child. She had no idea what football was, he said.
“She had to search for a couple of weeks to find a football team,” Lynch said.
He transferred to a Buffalo area high school when he was 16 and rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior while winning New York Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Lynch redshirted as a freshman, and he said that allowed him to add 10 pounds of muscle without compromising his speed and learn the playbook.
He didn't just impress the fans, who braved snow flurries and rain to watch the defense control the offense due to Penn State's underwhelming passing game.
“He's explosive in the way he runs,” right tackle Adam Gress said of Lynch. “He's fast, he makes the cuts, follows our blocks well and just gets it done.”
Coach Bill O'Brien prefers to use multiple backs, and Lynch said there are enough carries to go around.
“It's competitive, but it's also very friendly,” he said of his relationship with Zwinak and Belton. “So whoever gets the carries, we support them.”
O'Brien is a one-quarterback coach, but it doesn't look like spring practice provided much clarity in who will take over for record-setting Matt McGloin.
Sophomores Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson were anything but spectacular Saturday. Both completed 9 of 15 passes. Bench threw for more yards (99 to 90), but Ferguson's two touchdown passes were one more than Bench tossed.
O'Brien said Hackenberg, a five-star recruit who attended the game, will be given a chance to compete for the starting job.
“It is a decision that has to be made at some point and time,” O'Brien said of his starter at quarterback, “but not today.”
Notes: Left guard Miles Dieffenbach (Fox Chapel) and outside linebacker Mike Hull (Canon-McMillan) shared the Frank Patrick Total Commitment Award. Defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and cornerback Jordan Lucas shared the award given to the most improved defensive player. Center Ty Howle won the award given to the most improved offensive player. ... Tight end Jesse James (South Allegheny) caught five passes for 77 yards and touchdown. ... The new-look Big Ten will have Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East Division, according to ESPN. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin will be in the West Division.