By: Thomas Frank Carr
The unknown. That’s what drove 72,000 (82,000 if you ask James Franklin) people to Beaver Stadium Saturday for the yearly Blue/White game. That and a perfect day to be outside. What were we going to see from new Head Coach James Franklin and his coaching staff? How would the team look after the abrupt departure of Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff four months ago? Curiosity and a whole lot of public appearances from Franklin and his staff. Make no mistake about it. Franklin’s media blitz and high energy style brought people to Beaver Stadium to see a show today. They certainly got it.
Offensive Line Is a Real Issue
This doesn’t come as any surprise. There have been questions about the talent and depth along the line since the beginning of spring practice. It was painfully obvious on Saturday how much of an issue the offensive line will be this year. It didn’t matter what squad it was, the defensive line was getting pressure all day. Even taking over at Vanderbilt, Franklin says that he’s never had to deal with something like this before,
“I think this is probably unique. I’ve been places where when we showed up we had some challenges in terms of depth and things like that. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where we don’t’ have a scholarship player two deep.
It seems that there isn’t an easy solution to the problem either.
“We’ve got some things to solve up front. We’re going to have to get creative.”
Wildcat Back in Vogue
What’s one way to get creative? The Wildcat. Franklin and his staff spent a good bit of time during the spring game running plays out of the formation that has quarterback Christian Hackenberg lined up at receiver and a running back lined up for a direct snap. Franklin believes that the wildcat evens the playing field for his offense,
“You’re able to play true eleven on eleven football, offense versus defense. Every other offense you run, the defense has an advantage of plus one on you (because the quarterback doesn’t block). How big a part of our offense? That remains to be seen.”
Technically the name would work nicely for Penn State, considering that the mascot is a mountain lion, but it would seem that if any coaching staff could come up with a catchy new name for it, it would be this one. Franklin, however was more interested in how it works,
“Yeah, I think we’re going to call it The Wildcat. I’m more concerned with how it’s being run than thinking of a catchy name for it. That will be a part of our offense. How much? I’m not sure. It just kind of depends on how camp goes.”
Defensive Line Shines
It wasn’t hard for them to do it, but the defensive line really stood out today. They dominated their weaker counterpart and routinely got to the quarterback. Several times they even accidentally delivered a shot to freshman Mike O’Connor or White Team quarterback D.J. Crook. Both Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan seem more explosive this spring than they were last year as well.
The true standout however, was defensive tackle Anthony Zettel. Aside from not putting his shirt on all the way, he stood out because he was in the backfield constantly Saturday. The decision to move Zettel from a one technique (run stuffer) to a three technique (pass rusher) tackle position looks like a good one. Zettel, along with Barnes and Olaniyan give Penn State a formidable pass rush that will be fun to watch next year.
RB Cole Chiappialle- Or Chip as Hackenberg refers to him, did himself a huge favor Saturday with his performance. Chiappialle not only had a good day statistically, but he also passed the eyeball test. Despite a lack of size, Chip runs with good balance, body lean, speed and vision. He also finishes every run in a violent manner. True, he won’t be asked to do much behind Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch, but he put his name in the conversation today. That’s not bad for a former run-on.
Penn State Offensive Line- This position group will decide how far Penn State goes next year. If they rise to the occasion and prove all the doubters wrong, Penn State could be a very competitive team next year. If they play like they did Saturday…well let’s just hope Christian Hackenberg put on enough weight this winter to help absorb some hits.
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