For the first time since 2000, there was no rain on the day of Penn State’s Blue-White game.
For a team looking for positives signs coming off a 2003 campaign that was as dreary as the weather at last year’s intrasquad scrimmage, perhaps that can be taken as a sign of the clouds parting, so to speak.
In truth, Saturday’s 24-7 victory by the Blue over the White, the culmination of spring practice played before an estimated 47,000 fans, was more a public showcase for fun than a chance to forecast next season. But the play of the wide receivers Saturday provided what might be a glimpse into the sunny skies ahead for what was an embattled corps throughout last season.
With receivers who had trouble hanging onto passes and running precise routes in 2003, the Nittany Lions desperately need a few pass catchers to emerge as go-to guys.
They had a couple of them on Saturday, led by senior Ryan Scott’s five receptions for 101 yards for the White team.
“I think we’ve made some progress,”Coach Joe Paterno said before the game. “I think we’re a little more disciplined. We may still not have the great talent we’d like to have at that position, but I think we’re a lot more disciplined than we were last year.”
On the White squad’s second drive of the game, quarterback Zack Mills, who was 7-of-11 for 118 yards only playing in the first half, threw across the middle, had the pass tipped by receiver Gerald Smith and fall into the hands of Scott for a 10-yard gain.
Mills again found Scott for a gain of 16 and also rolled out to hit a wide open tight end Isaac Smolko for an 18-yard gain before the drive stalled out with a missed field goal by freshman kicker Nate Weltman.
On the White’s next drive, Mills, who in his limited action looked to be in excellent form, zipped a perfect throw across the middle to Scott for a 41-yard gain and then hit converted defensive back Gio Vendemia in the endzone for his only catch and White’s only touchdown of the day.
“For the most part I was pretty happy with me and the rest of the receivers catching the ball well today,” Scott said. “It shows an improvement for our group. It’s a positive thing for our group as a whole.”
If Scott was a surprise at receiver after having spent most of his career on the sidelines, the Blue team’s leading receiver was a surprise because most onlookers were probably not familiar with him.
Walk-on Vic Surma hauled in four catches for 68 yards. On a Blue drive that spanned the end of the first quarter and opening seconds of the second, quarterback Michael Robinson found Surma for a nine-yard gain as the Blue started to rebound from a sluggish start.
Sophomore tailback Austin Scott followed that with a nice run, spinning between the tackles for seven yards and closed out the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.
“I think Austin Scott’s going to be a good football player,” Paterno said. “I don’t think there’s any question he’s got a lot of ability. He’s got to be a little more consistent. I think he’s had a good spring. I like Austin Scott.”
Chris Ganter took the reins from Mills for the remainder of the half, and while the White would not score again, he had a few excellent throws, most notably a 19-yard strike to Gerald Smith in coverage.
After that pass in the second quarter however, Blue sophomore outside linebacker Paul Posluszny leveled Smith for no gain and tackle Jay Alford broke through the line for a sack of Ganter to end the White drive.
When Blue got the ball back, it struggled on the first series with defensive end Amani Purcell blowing past offensive tackle John Wilson for a sack of Robinson. Robinson though, with time winding down in the half, calmly guided Blue downfield, hitting Surma for gains of 17 and 19 yards on consecutive passes, then junior Terrance Phillips for a 13-yard gain before floating a 31-yard pass to redshirt freshman Terrell Golden, who had corner Anwar Phillips beaten, for the touchdown and a 14-7 Blue lead.
Robinson had a solid scrimmage, going 10-of-17 for 165 with one interception by cornerback Brent Wise — who had a strong day also recovering a fumble and showing solid cover skills — when Robinson quarterbacked the White early in the second half.
All three scholarship QBs performed well, and while it would seem Mills has a firm hold on the starting job, Paterno would not publicly anoint any of them as the first-teamer.
“Anything I say about the quarterback situation I have to be careful because people interpret what I say one way or the other,” Paterno said. “I think we’re fortunate we have two, maybe three good quarterbacks. Nobody ever mentions Chris Ganter. I think all of them had good springs. The quarterback situation is not something I lose sleep over.”
While quarterbacking the Blue, Robinson connected with former defensive end John Bronson for a 26-yard gain, his only catch in his first public outing at tight end. The results thought were mixed as he fumbled and turned the ball over to the White
Ganter meanwhile excelled when he moved over to the Blue team. Overall on the day, he went 13-21 for 183 yards and a 65-yard touchdown throw late in the game to close out the scoring.
He was particularly effective on Blue’s first scoring drive of the second half. Ganter rifled a well-thrown ball to Kinta Palmer on a slant for nine yards, then hit Golden for 14. Surma would bring in a 23-yard pass across the middle and another walk-on, Ian Firestone had an eight yard catch from Ganter before Robbie Gould made a 32-yard field goal to put the White up 17-7.
Defensively, there were a couple of bright spots. Neither team gave up much rushing yardage (Austin Scott and Tony Hunt were the leading rushers on the day with 38 and 41 yards, respectively) but most of the offense was pass-oriented to help avoid making the game a snoozer.
For the Blue defense however, it’s four leading tacklers were linebackers and defensive linemen. Posluszny led all tacklers with seven and had a forced fumble. Outside linebacker J.R. Zwierzynski, the second-leading tackler with six, joined Posluszny and Tim Shaw, who was in the middle, to make up the Blue’s starting LBer corps. At last week’s Coaches’ Clinic scrimmage, Shaw and Posluszny were the first-team outside linebackers with BranDon Snow in the middle. Snow, who had four tackles and looked quick to the hole, was the starting MLB for the White.
“I’m very encouraged with [the linebackers] ability to be good and willingness to be good,” Paterno said. “We’re not anywhere close to where we have to be in order to be a really good football team defensively, but there’s potential there.”
Defensive end Tamba Hali, meanwhile, showed his move from defensive tackle has been worthwhile, totaling four tackles for losses and two sacks.
“I think Hali can play defensive end,” Paterno said. “I thought it would be a good time to take a good look at Hali at defensive end. That may be his position. Having said that is he a better defensive end than maybe somebody else? I don’t know. You guys judge for yourselves.”
But regardless of the success or failures in the Blue-White game, Paterno aptly summed up what this spring told about his team.
“I won’t know till we see what happens in the fall,” he said.
Injury Notes Wide receiver Brendan Peretta did not play because of a dislocated shoulder.... linebacker Dan Connor was out with an ankle sprain... Safety Chris Harrell did not play because of a cracked vertebra... Rodney Kinlaw has not returned to full contact while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last August.
Class acts It appeared that most of the Penn State Class of 2008 — including preferred walk-ons — was in attendance, seated in the first few rows near the 50-yard line with their families. Anthony Morelli and Dontey Brown looked like the most sought-after autographs among the youngsters. There were also a number of prospective recruits for next year’s class in attendance, including Wyckoff (N.J) Don Bosco Prep DB/WR Michael Ray Garvin, a Rivals100 selection. Check Premium Ticket and Premium Forum for updates throughout the week on recruits who were in attendance.
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
----------------- -- -- -- -- -----
Penn State Blue..... 0 14 3 7 - 24
Penn State White.... 7 0 0 0 - 7
1st 03:12 WHITE - Vendemia, Gio 18 yd pass from Mills, Zack (Weltman, Nate kick), 23-0 8:52, BLUE 0 - WHITE 7
2nd 11:53 BLUE - Scott, Austin 8 yd run (Gould, Robbie kick), 23-0 8:52, BLUE 7 - WHITE 7 00:12 BLUE - Golden, Terrell 31 yd pass from Robinson, M. (Gould, Robbie kick), 11-0 1:49, BLUE 14 - WHITE 7
3rd 01:31 BLUE - Gould, Robbie 34 yd field goal, 17-0 5:36, BLUE 17 - WHITE 7
4th 04:53 BLUE - Cronin, Paul 65 yd pass from Ganter,Chris (Gould, Robbie kick), 7-0 5:46, BLUE 24 - WHITE 7
FIRST DOWNS................... 17 13
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)............ 22-65 27-72
PASSING YDS (NET)............. 301 208
Passes Att-Comp-Int........... 33-19-0 30-17-1
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS..... 55-366 57-280
Fumble Returns-Yards.......... 0-0 0-0
Punt Returns-Yards............ 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards......... 0-0 0-0
Interception Returns-Yards.... 1-0 0-0
Punts (Number-Avg)............ 5-43.4 5-39.6
Fumbles-Lost.................. 3-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards............... 0-0 2-10
Possession Time............... 20:02 39:58
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 2-7 1-9
RUSHING: Penn State Blue-Scott, Austin 7-31; Hunt, Tony 2-11; Way, Brandon 2-10; Gasparato, Mike 5-8; Lundquist, T. 1-7; Senk,Adam 1-4; Robinson, M. 2-1; Ganter,Chris 1-minus 3; Pinchek, Nick 1-minus 4. Penn State White-Hunt,Tony 7-30; Gasparato, Mike 6-19; Mills, Zack 2-8; Pinchek, Nick 4-7; Scott, Austin 3-7; Robinson,M 2-6; Jefferson, Paul 1-2; Ganter, Chris 2-minus 7.
PASSING: Penn State Blue-Robinson, M. 9-15-0-141; Ganter,Chris 6-10-0-128; Hart, Mike 3-5-0-24; Lundquist, T. 1-3-0-8. Penn State White-Ganter, Chris 7-15-0-55; Mills, Zack 7-11-0-118; Robinson,M 1-2-1-24; Corrado, Dan 1-1-0-8; Smith, Gerald 1-1-0-3.
RECEIVING: Penn State Blue-Surma, Vic 4-68; Golden, Terrell 4-54; Palmer,
Kinta 2-26; Baird, Mike 2-23; Phillips, T. 2-21; Scott, Austin 2-10; Cronin,
Paul 1-65; Bronson, John 1-26; Firestone, Ian 1-8. Penn State White-Scott,
Ryan 5-101; Smolko, Isaac 3-26; Smith, Gerald 2-19; Hannum, Josh 2-14;
Vendemia, Gio 1-18; Zemaitis, Alan 1-11; Jefferson, Paul 1-10; Scott, Austin
1-8; Pinchek, Nick 1-1.
INTERCEPTIONS: Penn State Blue-Wise, Brent 1-0. Penn State White-None.
FUMBLES: Penn State Blue-Pinchek, Nick 1-0; Bronson, John 1-1; Ganter,Chris
1-0. Penn State White-Hunt, Tony 1-1.
Stadium: Beaver Stadium Attendance: 47000
Kickoff time: 01:30 End of Game: 03:35 Total elapsed time: 2:05
Officials: Scorer: T.Herrington;
O'Hora Award - LB Tim Shaw
Worrell Award - TE John Bronson
Patrick Award - FB Adam Senk