The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Reviewing Penn State football's Blue-White game
UNIVERSITY PARK — There is usually one goal teams have when they enter a spring game, and it's one Penn State head coach James Franklin believes his team met Saturday afternoon following the team's Blue-White game.
"Looks like we came out of today healthy as well," Franklin said. "I think you guys saw that there were some guys that weren't dressed. We anticipate all those guys being back. Just some bumps and bruises and things like that. We expect all those guys to be back and ready to go. They just weren't ready to go this spring."
With the health of the team out of the way, there's still more to dissect on a team that enters the home stretch of the offseason with questions at a few spots and expectations of making noise in the College Football Playoff race this year.
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Let's take a look at how the Nittany Lions fared in their final public appearance before the season opener Sept. 2 against West Virginia.
Omari Evans: Everyone was anticipating Drew Allar's debut as the No. 1 guy on the grass at Beaver Stadium (we'll get to him in a second) but it was Evans that starred on offense for the Nittany Lions. He made the occasional appearance for the program last year but didn't produce all that much during his freshman season. He had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown as he began to transition from his high school position of quarterback to wide receiver.
Saturday afternoon some of the tools he displayed in bits and pieces last year started to come together. He used his speed to break away from defenders when he had the ball but also showed he could stop and start to create separation before the ball got to him. Evans may shift to the team's fourth receiver when Dante Cephas transfers in from Kent State, but he showed he can be an asset in the 2023 season.
Dani Dennis-Sutton: For as good as Evans was offensively, Dennis-Sutton was even better defensively. He was nothing short of dominant at defensive end. It didn't matter if he was rushing the passer or defending the run, the sophomore found a way to make his mark on nearly every play he was in during Saturday's scrimmage. He collapsed the pocket on Allar and backup quarterback Beau Pribula, pushed his man into them to take away their space. When he wasn't doing that, he was beating them around the edge to end the play.
Dennis-Sutton recorded two sacks and a QB hit in the game and did so against the two tackles fighting to start on the right side in Caedan Wallace and Drew Shelton. He was a high upside player as a recruit and it seems like he may be putting everything together sooner rather than later.
Zane Durant: While Dennis-Sutton dominated on the edges for the white defense, Durant was doing the same from the interior for the blue defense. He's been a popular mention during media availabilities this spring as someone who has stood out and taken a step forward. The sophomore defensive tackle doesn't have ideal height and length for a defensive tackle, but he makes up for it with an explosive and powerful lower half that allows him to dominate athletically.
Losing PJ Mustipher at defensive tackle will hurt Penn State, but Durant's ability to bring a new dimension to the interior — specifically his pass rushing — should make up for some of the losses in areas Mustipher excelled. He may not start, but it would be a surprise if Durant didn't have a massive impact by the end of the 2023 season.
Drew Allar: Allar was the focal point of Saturday's spring game — and will be most of the season — and for the most part he delivered. The sophomore quarterback has all of the arm strength you need in an elite quarterback and showed off some of the traits that had coaches dreaming on his potential as a recruit.
The obvious moment to point to is the sidearm pass he made late in the fourth quarter of the game, but some of the basic throws stood out, too. He puts a lot of velocity on his passes and that allows him to squeeze throws into tight windows before defenders can react. He still struggles to layer the ball at times, throwing at high speeds when he needs more loft than zip, but that is a correctable issue. All in all, Saturday was a step in the right direction for the player who will dictate just how good Penn State will be this year.
Tackle play: Dennis-Sutton was really good, and maybe that's the only story here, but Shelton and Wallace were not at their best in the scrimmage. They were blown up more than a few times by Dennis-Sutton on pass rushes and were unable to create holes in the running game. That, of course, doesn't mean there's no hope. The opposite will likely prove to be true.
Shelton and Wallace are both talented players, and the winner of the right tackle competition will more than likely be a positive for the offensive line this year. That being said, you'd like to see them put up a better fight in some of their only publicly viewable reps of the spring in live action.
Running game: The tackles weren't great and neither was the interior of the offensive line on running plays. There's a massive caveat here that it would have been wildly irresponsible for Penn State to run the ball how it will want to in actual games. Running backs can wear down quickly with the number of hits they take throughout the course of a game and exposing Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton to that level of punishment would have been reckless.
WIth that in mind, the offensive lines still struggled against relatively undersized defensive lines. It's worth noting too that Olumuyiwa Fashanu did not play in the game and he's the best tackle in the country. His participation could have changed things but the Nittany Lion offense will still want to show better than it did on Saturday.
Punting: This being here is a good sign for the overall positivity of Saturday's spring game but a bad sign for a unit that had no excuses for a poor performance. There was nobody on the field but the punter, the longsnapper and the returner when Penn State punted during the scrimmage, yet the group still struggled. Riley Thompson was a bright spot with one punt for 62 yards, but Alex Bacchetta — the favorite to be the long-term punter because of his recruiting pedigree — struggled with a long of 38 yards and an average under 34 yards.
With the field open to them, the punters — Thompson aside — should have been better.