A decade of Penn State Blue-White games: Recaps, spring stars and lessons learned
Penn State’s Blue-White football game represents the last of 15 spring practices and is often treated as such with a casual atmosphere and a light day for some of the Lions’ best players. Beaver Stadium has a gameday feel, but coach James Franklin has choices to make in the push-pull of creating competition and keeping his roster healthy.
It’s one of the reasons key veterans such as Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki will see little, if any, game action. Why take any unneeded risk? Franklin knows what his core players can do and what role they will play, so the scrimmage will offer him no new information on that front. Franklin has taken precautions all spring, which has created opportunities for young players to get more reps.
At the quarterback spot, that could mean extra run for Tommy Stevens and Jake Zembiec. Stevens fought an uphill battle against Penn State first-stringers last spring in completing 7 of 14 passes for 48 yards with 33 rushing yards for the White team. He was 3 for 3 for 52 yards playing with the Blue team, which consisted of starters and key reserves.
Zembiec enrolled at Penn State last January but did not play in the Blue-White game as McSorley, Stevens and Billy Fessler handled the reps. The former four-star recruit from Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y., should be in line for his first career game action in Beaver Stadium. Franklin will have incentive to see what the redshirt freshman can do.
Barkley is the Lions’ offensive centerpiece and a potential first-round draft pick, so he’s unlikely to see the field Saturday. That was the case last season, when Mark Allen led the team in rushing with 59 yards — 49 yards for the Blue team, 10 for White — and caught five passes of 48 yards. Allen is a candidate to lead the way again, along with other key reserves Andre Robinson and Miles Sanders.
Johnathan Thomas, who began his Penn State career at running back but flipped to linebacker last season, is another name to watch as a less heralded player with a chance to receive a large share of the work. Thomas was moved back to running back this spring to help fortify that position group and earned praise from position coach Charles Huff. He’s a 5-11, 220-pound redshirt junior from Peabody, Mass.
Defensively, the cornerback and linebacker rotations are worth watching but might not offer answers to all key questions. The same can be said about the safety group, which has a starting job to fill and a handful of intriguing candidates in Troy Apke, Nick Scott and Ayron Monroe. Another job is open at cornerback, where John Reid sustained an injury and could miss a significant amount of time.
Plenty of variables stand between the Blue-White game and any meaningful conclusions about what the game could mean for the future. We revisited the past 10 spring games to see how the game played out, who the stars were and how those performances translated to future production.