STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The results of Penn State’s Blue-White games are not etched in stone somewhere on the trail up Mount Nittany. That was fortunate for the White team last year when the Blue rolled up advantages of 432-13 in total yards and 26-1 in first downs in a 26-0 win.
Still, an estimated crowd of 71,000 showed up at Beaver Stadium to tailgate, gather with friends, and watch a little football, trying to find the Nittany Lions’ next impact player.
The Lions will do it again Saturday even if some first-team players won’t play much and “fairly vanilla game plans on both offense and defense” will be in effect, according to coach James Franklin. But it’s the 15th and final practice of spring football, so Franklin expects his players to give maximum effort.
“We have guys that are competing to try to win jobs or win more significant roles,” he said. “This is just another opportunity to go out and evaluate the guys.”
The Blue team will have predominantly first-string players while the White will have players from the second and third teams. Some members of the White team, such as safeties Lamont Wade and Jonathan Sutherland, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and offensive lineman CJ Thorpe, are pushing hard for starting jobs and could impress the coaches while going against first-team players.
Another important aspect of the game will be the chance for freshmen to perform in Beaver Stadium for the first time in front of a crowd. Franklin said that the unseasonably cool and snowy weather of the last month prevented the team from getting into the stadium more, and that he’ll try to practice more there during preseason camp.
“I think getting in there is important,” he said. “It’s even amazing, the slope of the field, just all those little subtle things that maybe you’d think they’d factor in – the lights, the Jumbotrons, all those types of things.
“But the spring game, it’s an opportunity for us to go out and make some plays in the stadium and build on some things we did in the spring, gain some confidence, have some fun, and then really kind of put some closure on the end of spring practice.”
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens passed for 216 yards and three touchdowns last year. Instead of Stevens or starter Trace McSorley, the quarterback of choice for the majority of reps Saturday might be redshirt freshman Sean Clifford, who has impressed the coaching staff.
Franklin also likes the game because it gives his assistant coaches a chance to call plays and manage personnel. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne will be in charge of the Blue team, and co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks will head the White.
“It’s an opportunity to allow those other guys to call the game, to manage the game, and get some experience,” Franklin said. “It’s very valuable for me to see how the defensive coordinator running the No. 2 defense on the White team does against our No. 1 offense. So there’s value in that as well as in terms of evaluating the staff.”