The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Penn State's Blue-White Game
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State's annual Blue-White Game is typically a springboard into the following season. But for a brief moment Saturday, thousands of hopeful Nittany Lion fans were reminded of the past — and what now must be replaced.
Saquon Barkley. Mike Gesicki. DaeSean Hamilton. Marcus Allen. Jason Cabinda. The lifeblood of Penn State's return to prominence stood near the south end zone, honored with the rest of their former teammates as 2017 Fiesta Bowl champions.
Highlights from the Nittany Lions' 35-28 win over Washington played on the videoboard; Barkley's 92-yard touchdown drew the loudest cheers, naturally. But when each player's name bellowed through the Beaver Stadium speakers, the resulting applause was for more than just one game in the desert. The hooting and hollering from 71,000 sun-soaked supporters was a nod to nostalgia — an understanding that this will be the final time Barkley and company step foot in Happy Valley as amateur athletes. The draft is days away, and they each have an NFL future ahead.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions they left behind, Trace McSorley and more, are moving on, too.
The brief reminiscence Saturday was nice. But Penn State is pushing forward.
"Last year is last year, we can't lean on any of that," McSorley said with the conviction of a fifth-year senior. "We got to put all of that away and get ready to work for this year. That's the kind of mentality that we are able to come out of the spring knowing, that last year is not going to have any effect on this year.
"This year is going to be brand new."
Shortly after the Blue-White Game's running clock hit zero, six standout performers were covered by the CDT staff. Mac Hippenhammer put himself in rare company, "freak" linebacker Micah Parsons made his debut, Lamont Wade displayed his versatility, and three Nittany Lions — Dae'Lun Darien, Zech McPhearson and Nick Tarburton — surprised on Saturday.
To avoid any repeat analysis, here are six more Nittany Lions — four players and a couple alumni — worth mentioning after solid showings.
Mark Allen might be forgotten behind Miles Sanders, but the senior will be useful in 2018. The 5-foot-6 shifty back rushed for 30 yards, added three receptions and popped up in a new wrinkle added by offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne: 20 personnel (two running backs, three wide receivers, zero tight ends). Allen caught a pass out of the package, lining up to McSorley's right with Sanders on the left side. Without a reliable option at tight end, expect to see that a bit more with Allen in 2018.
We've reached halftime at Beaver Stadium. Blue 14 - White 0Standout performers of the first half: Blue Team: RB Mark Allen(5 rush for 30 yds 1 TD) , WR Cam Sullivan Brown (3 rec. for 37yds)White Team: S Jonathan Sutherland ( 5 total tackles) pic.twitter.com/42ZfPpLvfB— Nittany Lion Takeover (@NittanyTakeover) April 21, 2018
Hippenhammer wasn't the only impressive receiver. Fellow redshirt freshman Cam Sullivan-Brown had three catches for 37 yards, including a difficult 24-yard snare over the middle. It's unclear how much run the 6-foot pass-catcher will get next year. Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk return; Hippenhammer and KJ Hamler opened eyes this spring; and five-star Justin Shorter joins the program in June. But Sullivan-Brown helped himself out on Saturday.
Jonathan Sutherland did the same. The redshirt freshman safety had 4.5 tackles for the White squad and provided a persistent presence around the ball. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry was high on him early in the spring, and it's easy to see why.
Nicely done, Carson Landis. The redshirt freshman walk-on kicker converted a 34-yard field goal and all four extra point attempts. Nothing crazy. But for a guy who missed five of six short field goals during an open media session two weeks ago, that is a confidence booster.
And it would be a disservice to not mention actor Keegan-Michael Key and letterman Anthony "Spice" Adams. Key's impression of James Franklin continued to be spot-on. The comedian looked the part leading the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel for the second half and stopped to speak with Adams, telling the Big Ten Network personality that Penn State would run "double six wombat," "stubble smoke," "ukelele," and more hilariously fictional plays. Meanwhile, Adams caught a punt at halftime and ran it all the way back for an uncontested, literally breathtaking touchdown. The two stole the show.
Several members of the Blue team didn't play, including Thompkins, Johnson, Tommy Stevens, John Reid, Cam Brown and Koa Farmer. Johnson has been injured throughout the spring, and it didn't make sense to risk Reid. Thompkins' absence was expected, and despite warming up in full gear, so was Stevens' time on the sideline.
But it was kind of odd to not see Brown or Farmer out there. Penn State's linebacker situation is totally up in the air, and any chance for Brown and Farmer to work alongside Micah Parsons, Ellis Brooks, Jan Johnson and Jarvis Miller ought to be taken advantage of.
Maybe the staff wanted an extended look at Parsons and the other up-and-coming contenders. But letting Brown run things at the 'Mike' for a series or two couldn't have hurt.
Hamler and Johnathan Thomas fumbled, and McSorley nearly threw a pick.
Outside of that, though, nothing to report.