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April 21, 2012

Grades: Blue-White Game

Marking the conclusion of the spring practice session, Penn State took to Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon for the annual Blue-White Game. Though the defense prevailed, 77-65, there were strong performances all over the field. Check out BWI's grades, here!


Quarterbacks- C Matt McGloin may have continued to separate himself from the three-part quarterback race, but it wasn't because he blew away his competition.

McGloin, who finished with 105 yards on just six completions and an interception, was probably the most consistent quarterback of the day - outside of Shane McGregor who completed all four of his pass attempts - but Paul Jones may have shown the most potential.

Jones definitely has the most explosive arm of the group (one pass literally travelled 70 yards), and his mobility, which is superior to his counterparts, saved him from being sacked more than twice. But he overthrew his targets on multiple attempts and threw a lazy interception in the second quarter.

Rob Bolden, who threw a team-high three interceptions, struggled often, including a swing pass to running back Bill Belton that landed directly at his feet. He finished with 78 yards on 14 throws.


Running Backs- B+ The estimated 60,000 fans in attendance didn't get to see much of veteran Silas Redd Saturday, as he's still dealing with side effects of tendinitis. He managed 12 yards on just three touches, before Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Derek Day and Deron Thompson took over the load for the white team.

Belton may have been the most productive offensive player on the field, showing a natural wiggle as he amassed a touchdown, a 7.1 yard per carry average and garnered raving reviews from Bill O'Brien after the game. But O'Brien added that Belton still needs to work on his ball security, even though he didn't fumble during the game.

At a position in which its depth has been questioned this spring, Zwinak proved that he could be relied on as a power back, as he bulldozed his way to 37 yards on eight carries including the game's first touchdown.


Wide Receivers- B+ Justin Brown showed the urgency expected from a No. 1 receiver, but didn't have enough accurate passes thrown in his direction to make it show up on the stat sheet.

He laid out for one pass that was overthrown, and put his body in oncoming traffic for another, but both were just out of his reach. His only two catches, however, went for more than 20 yards, which by the new scoring rules gave the white team four points.

Allen Robinson led all receivers with three receptions for 87 yards, including a 41-yard catch and run. He not only showed the ability to separate himself from defenders to get open, but he also can make people miss when he has the ball in his hands.

Shawney Kersey had the longest reception of the day when he pulled in a 42-yard grab from Jones in the first quarter


Tight ends- B+ True freshman Jesse James caught his first pass in a Penn State uniform from McGloin and turned it into a 16-yard first down. He worked primarily with the first-team, along with Garry Gilliam, who finished with just one catch for 11 yards. James finished with two grabs for 24 yards, while Matt Lehman and Brian Irvin combined for three receptions for 43 yards.


Offensive Line- C+ The first-team offensive line - which was comprised of Adam Gress at left tackle, Miles Dieffenbach at left guard, Matt Stankiewitch at center, John Urschel at right guard and Donovan Smith at right tackle - performed better than anticipated, especially in the first half.

They opened holes for a couple nice gains on the ground, including two redzone rushing touchdowns, and at times gave their quarterbacks enough time in the pocket to make an unrushed throw, but once the second and third units took over, it went downhill. In the second half, even the first-team struggled to play at the level it did in the first half.

In all, the offensive line gave up eight would-be sacks, and if it were an actual game, there would have been at least two or three more.

Smith was arguably the most consistent offensive lineman, and after the game offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said Smith is separating himself as the starter at right tackle. McWhorter also said Ty Howle, the second-team center who saw multiple reps with the first unit, particularly impressed him today.

Urschel, a 4.0 student, was awarded the Patrick Award at the half for total commitment in all facets of a student-athlete's life.


Defensive Line - A- At first, the offensive line did well neutralizing the attack of the defensive line, but that didn't last long.

The defensive ends were the most disruptive force for Ted Roof's defense Saturday afternoon as C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes, Sean Stanley and Brad Bars combined for seven of the eight total sacks, including three from Olaniyan.

But as Roof noted in the post-game press conference, most of those sacks were caused by his defensive tackles - Da'Quan Jones, Jordan Hill and James Terry in particular - collapsing the pocket and flushing the quarterback into the ends' grasp.

Hill, who O'Brien said is one of the best defensive tackles he's ever been around, even hauled in an interception off of a tipped pass on the second drive of the game.


Linebackers- A Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson, who led the team with eight tackles, both appeared to be a step faster and touch stronger than in 2011, which has to be comforting given the string of injuries that's hit the linebacker corps.

Michael Mauti is still rehabbing from an ACL injury, Jamie Van Fleet is likely out for the season after injuring his knee in practice earlier this week, and backup T.J. Rhattigan may have also suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Blue-White game.

But there is still some solid depth at the position. Senior Mike Yancich had a couple bone-jarring hits and would have had a sack on Bolden if it was a regular game.
Ben Kline, a redshirt freshman, was all over the field, finishing with five tackles and an interception, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him earn legitimate playing time this fall.


Defensive backs- A- For a secondary marred by injuries and hurting for depth, the defensive backs were a pleasant surprise Saturday afternoon.

Former walk-ons Devin Pryor and Jesse Della Valle each snagged an interception, and Adrian Amos beat Shawney Kersey for a jump-ball late in the game and came down with the secondary's third interception of the day.

Stephen Oben-Agyapong, who was nursing a shoulder injury, delivered some physical hits and even Della Valley lit up Allen Robinson on one pass, causing him to cough up the reception.


Special Teams- B- Bill Belton proved today that he is a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands. Special teams are no exception.

He showed promise as a punt returner. He likely would have returned one kick return to the house, but all returns were halted at the 30-yard line. Apparently Devin Pryor didn't get the memo.

Early in the game No. 16 hauled in a kick at the goal line, made two tacklers miss and took it all the way to the house, all by himself. No one was chasing him because, well, they all stopped at the 30.

As for the kicking game, Anthony Fera appears to be the frontrunner for both the placekicker and punting duties once again as he averaged 45.5 yards on two punts and hit one 35-yard field goal along with an extra point.

Alex Butterworth shanked his first punt for only 11 yards but redeemed himself the second time with a 40-yard boomer that landed inside the 20.


Coaches- B+ It became obvious that a new coaching staff was in place when this writer ran into one of the assistants in the press box, searching his way to the coaches' booth.

Given that it was the first time any of the coaches worked together as a group and there were certain scrimmage-related limitations to the gameplan, fans should be encouraged of what they saw.

The redzone offense was productive and
aggressive, and the defense ultimately prevailed, which was expected.


Fan Support- A+ 60,000 fans for a spring scrimmage, not too shabby.

Rain was in the forecast and the gloomy skies that loomed overhead all afternoon didn't stop these fans, even though the rain never came until after the final whistle. It was the first time to see Bill O'Brien and the new-look Nittany Lions in action, and these fans took full advantage.


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