What to watch for during Saturday at Beaver Stadium
There’s plenty to be excited about with the Penn State football program coming off an 11-3 season, Big Ten title and thrilling Rose Bowl game (even in a loss), and there are a lot of reasons to think the team will be very good again this fall.
There are, however, some big questions as spring ball wraps up with Saturday’s Blue-White Game. Here’s a look at some things to watch for in the scrimmage that will be story lines for the summer and preseason camp.
Chris Godwin was an excellent college receiver and will be sorely missed, especially his remarkable ability to come down with 50-50 balls.
Who will be the Lions’ No. 1 receiver? Do they need a No. 1 receiver in Joe Moorhead’s offense, which typically spreads the ball around to numerous targets?
Still, Godwin caught everything thrown his way, could run any route and dragged defenders after the catch.
Maybe there’s another receiver like him already on the roster — Juwan Johnson has been heavily hyped this spring — but don’t be surprised if Godwin turns out to be the most irreplaceable loss from last year’s team.
Saeed Blacknall could turn out to be Trace McSorley’s go-to guy, or DaeSean Hamilton, or DeAndre Thompkins, or Irvin Charles, or tight end Mike Gesicki. Point is, PSU has a lot of weapons to throw to, and all of them will get opportunities.
Brandon Bell was a monster last season but soon will be in the NFL, and Jason Cabinda is a very good player in the middle. The likely starters on the outside are Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer, although Cam Brown will be in the mix.
That’s a solid group, but may not exactly be a spectacular one. The Bell loss, therefore, is huge because he was always around the ball and making plays (such as 19 tackles against Ohio State).
Could Bowen, Brown or Farmer emerge as a big-time player for the Nittany Lions? Sure. But until one does, there will be some concern as to whether PSU can stuff the run effectively while also being able to cover guys underneath.
Cornerback John Reid is expected to miss the season with a knee injury, and he will be tough to replace not only on defense, but also returning punts.
Christian Campbell likely will get the first crack at the cornerback job. But clearly when you bring in a heralded freshman recruit such as Lamont Wade, everyone will be wondering just how quickly the freshman might be able to work his way into the job.
Losing your best cornerback in the Big Ten isn’t as big as, say, doing so in the pass-happy Big 12 or Pac-12, but not having Reid could wind up costing the Lions in a big way at some point.
Stevens’ skill set
McSorley is the starter and, if he stays healthy, should have a great year that could have him in the Heisman discussion.
If, by some chance, something happens to McSorley, Tommy Stevens will take over the offense. What we do know about Stevens is he’s an excellent runner. But what about his passing skills?
He attempted only three passes last season, and Saturday’s scrimmage should give us a good look at how he handles things from the pocket in a passing capacity.
Stevens showed his impressive running skills in last year’s spring game, and for the season, he averaged 9.4 yards on 21 carries.
How to use Barkley
Saquon Barkley is a special player. Everyone knows this. He gives Moorhead a tremendous weapon out of the backfield, someone who can take off for 80 yards on the ground at any point, or sneak out of the backfield and catch a screen pass or 20-yard wheel route.
Barkley, who probably won’t play in Saturday’s scrimmage, caught 28 passes last year and could be in line for many more than that as an even bigger centerpiece of the offense.
Miles Sanders showed great speed and elusiveness when he got a chance last year, averaging 7.4 yards on his 25 carries, and should get even more opportunities this season. Can you imagine sets with Barkley lined up in the slot and Sanders in the backfield?
Andre Robinson and Mark Allen also are in the mix and got 29 carries apiece last season, so the running back situation is excellent.