UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Penn State's search for a starting quarterback, as expected, was not concluded during the annual spring game. Instead, Bill O'Brien looks forward to an open competition for the starting quarterback job, which appears to be a knotted up between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson and will see stud recruit Christian Hackenberg added to the mix later this summer. Bench and Ferguson had fairly even performances in chilly Beaver Stadium.
This is all expected though. In fact, it all seems to be a part of the plan for Penn State in the search for the one who will replace Matt McGloin in 2013. There is no need to rush to a decision, not when the options all lack experience. Now O'Brien will take some time to sit back and watch some film and evaluate before getting a chance to work on the next steps in the summer.
Overall though Penn State seemed to have a positive outing. There were some good performances by players competing for starting jobs and others looking to secure a roster spot in the fall.
Here are some other notes that filled the pages in my notebook:
- Two running backs had a very encouraging afternoon for Penn State. Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch and redshirt sophomore Deron Thompson each gave fans a positive vibe about the state of the running game. Lynch showed some good moves and showed that the wait to play may have been worth the wait by rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown while playing mostly with the first team offense. Look for him to be a significant part of the offense in the fall, even with a healthy Zach Zwinak back after rushing for 1,000 yards last season after starting the year third on the depth chart. Thompson led the ground game with 97 yards, highlighted by a cut to the right side of a wide open field for 41 yards. Thompson may end up being a reserve running back in the fall, but he quickly became the biggest winner of the day.
- Zwinak had to leave the game after just a couple of plays after injuring his hand or arm. It does not sound as though that will be much of anything to be concerned about by the time the season rolls around. He should still remain a good part of the running game alongside Lynch in the fall.
- Bill Belton did not play in the spring game due to a toe injury. Injury aside, there have been some good things said about him this spring and it should be interesting to see how he bounces back this year. If healthy and improved as suggested, the Penn State running game could have interesting wrinkles in it.
- Linebacker Nyeem Wartman delivered the biggest hit of the game, reading a screen nicely and putting himself in position for a hit on Thompson. The crowd let out a collective "Ooh" as the hit was delivered. Wartman is a solid leader for an outside linebacker spot in Penn State's 4-3 defense.
- One of the other defensive players I took special note of was defensive end Brad Bars. Bars is competing for a starting job and he had a good afternoon. When on the field Bars routinely found a way to bring pressure and get in the quarterback's face. If not for the letting up on quarterbacks in this game, Bars may have put a hurt on Ferguson in the back field a couple of times. Bars was also the subject of one of the game's lighter moments, when Bill O'Brien was on a mic for the start of the second half. O'Brien called out a play and immediately instructed Bars to play the run, getting a good laugh form the fans in the stands.
- Redshirt sophomore defensive back Jesse Merise picked up the game's first interception, hauling in a tipped pass and showing good awareness. One key area Penn State's defense has been focusing on this spring is creating turnovers. The defense totaled 10 interceptions last season, but five came form linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. This fall, the secondary hopes to create a few more turnovers themselves.
- Kicker Sam Ficken missed a PAT and a 37-yard field goal but O'Brien is not concerned about his kicking situation. After the game O'Brien said Ficken has improved as a kicker since Penn State's last game against Wisconsin last season. We only got a chance to watch him today in less-than-favorable weather conditions, with punter Alex Butterworth experimenting holding kicks for him. O'Brien has seen Ficken all spring. We should probably give the head coach the benefit of the doubt here and see what Ficken does at the start of the season.
- Beaver Stadium was less than half full. An estimated 35,000 to 40,000 showed up for the free game played in some inclement weather early on. It was colder than usual and when the weather is somewhat iffy the fans tend to shy away from the spring game a little bit. But considering the circumstances, the crowd looked to be pretty decent.