Giger: With so much talent on offense, Lions can succeed even without great QB
UNIVERSITY PARK – Paul Jones and Anthony Morelli excelled in past Blue-White Games, while honestly, I can’t recall anything noteworthy about the first time Matt McGloin played in one.
We all know how (in)significant the spring game performances turned out to be when evaluating the futures of those three Penn State quarterbacks.
So what we saw from Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson on Saturday should be taken with a grain of salt.
Sure, it had to be slightly disappointing at the very least for PSU fans because both guys looked about as average as it gets, and neither seems to have a distinct advantage over the other.
I tweeted to McGloin during halftime about the offenses struggling and asked him if he could come back and play the second half.
“I would love to,” McGloin, who enjoyed a record-breaking senior season in 2012, replied.
Too bad he’s out of eligibility.
But as Allen Iverson famously said, “We’re talking about practice,” and we all need to keep in mind that’s all the Blue-White Game is – one practice.
More important than what Bench and Ferguson showed – or didn’t show – on Saturday should be one soothing reality for fans: Neither guy, or possibly incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, is going to have to be great for the Nittany Lions to have a good offense this fall.
There’s enough talent on that side of the ball for Penn State to be effective and efficient even if the starting quarterback turns out to be nothing more than a game manager with an average skill set.
The explanation for why can be found in my breakdown of the projected best units on the team. And yes, we are talking about Penn State here, which must be pointed out because this list is basically the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the Lions.
1. Tight ends
Loaded. Absolutely loaded. There could be at least four and maybe even more NFL tight ends on the roster, including Kyle Carter (6-3, 240), Jesse James (6-7, 258), Matt Lehman (6-6, 254) and freshman Adam Breneman (6-4, 230).
Football continues to change rapidly with regards to heavier focus on the passing game, and big tight ends who can catch the ball are going to be huge commodities in the future. Penn State has a ton of them.
It doesn’t take a great quarterback to be able to throw an accurate pass to an enormous guy 8 yards away. That’s the advantage all these big targets will give PSU’s quarterback, and don’t be surprised if we see all kinds of formations with three or even four tight ends on the field at the same time.
The tight ends combined for 83 catches last year, led by Carter (36) and Lehman (24), and that number should approach 100 or more this season. That’s remarkable given that two years ago it was 15.
SUBHD: 2. Receivers
It’s a strong group, led by standout Allen Robinson, and one that can be even more dangerous since defenses will have have to focus so much on the tight ends.
If Bench/Ferguson/Hackenberg learn how to read defenses and get comfortable throwing the deep ball, then Robinson, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Eugene Lewis and others could evolve as big-time playmakers. But even if the inexperienced quarterbacks struggle with their reads and have to stick with the short stuff, the receivers are good enough to make it work.
SUBHD: 3. Running backs
Zach Zwinak is a beast, and even though he banged up his left wrist Saturday, he still should be ready to go by August. We’ve heard a lot about Akeel Lynch over the past year, and he didn’t disappoint in the Blue-White Game.
If Bill Belton can emerge as a solid change-of-pace back, the quarterback won’t have to do much more than turn around and hand the ball off to move the chains.
SUBHD: 4. Offensive line
Wait a minute. We’re already at No. 4, and the offensive line is ahead of the linebackers? What kind of crazy, mixed-up college football world are we talking about here?
One with a dynamite left tackle in 6-5, 327-pound Donovan Smith, an outstanding right guard in John Urschel, a natural center in Ty Howle whom Urschel raves about, a returning starter at left guard in Miles Dieffenbach and a 6-6, 321-pound right tackle in Adam Gress.
There’s great size and experience up front, so the line can keep the quarterback safe in pass blocking and should be able to open up holes for the running backs.
The top four in my rankings are all on offense, which might seem strange given how the defense clearly was more effective in the Blue-White Game. But many key playmakers didn’t play or barely played Saturday, including Robinson, Carter, Lehman and Zwinak.
With all those guys on the field together, whoever is at quarterback will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.
SUBHD: 5. Secondary
Now things are just getting crazy. The secondary ahead of the linebackers, too?
It’s a toss-up, but this group gets the slight nod because it has a star in versatile cornerback Adrian Amos, experience in safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis and an impressive youngster in Jordan Lucas who will get a lot of playing time.
Depth was a major concern in the secondary last year, but that’s been addressed by moving some talented young players such as Trevor Williams to the defensive backfield.
SUBHD: 6. Linebackers
Mike Hull should be the standout of the group as he’s already shown big-play capability, while Glenn Carson is a steady if not spectacular middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman has a world of potential, and his development over the next few years will be fun to watch.
The issue with this group is depth. Who will back up the three starters, and how much will they be forced to play? Ben Kline and Gary Wooten are among the talented backups, but until they prove themselves, they have to be considered question marks.
SUBHD: 7. Defensive line
Usually No. 1 or 2 on this list right up with the linebackers, the line has depth concerns of its own, plus big questions about how effective the usually outstanding tackles will perform.
Defensive end Deion Barnes is the only standout on the line, while C.J. Olaniyan or Anthony Zettel, who looked good in late-game situations last year, will man the other end.
The Lions have had some terrific tackles in recent years, including Jared Odrick, Devon Still and Jordan Hill, but that doesn’t appear to be the case this year. Senior DaQuan Jones has the most experience and should be the best run stopper in the middle.
SUBHD: 8. Quarterback
Maybe Hackenberg will be able to come in and wow everyone with how quickly he picks up the offense. If not, then Bench or Ferguson will have quite a battle in fall camp, then will have a workable non-conference schedule to figure things out on the field.
By then, both should be better than what we saw Saturday. He won’t have to be great, just better.
SUBHD: 9. Special teams
For all the progress he made late last season, Sam Ficken didn’t instill confidence in anyone by missing a 37-yard field goal and an extra point Saturday. He had a new holder, and that is important, but come on, you just can’t miss extra points.
Bill O’Brien has said special teams will be a concern because he has to properly manage the right amount of playing time with his starters given the depth issues. Look for a lot of young players on all the special teams units, so those areas could be trouble spots at times.