QBs Bench, Ferguson remain in dead heat

UNIVERSITY PARK – Tyler is even with Steven in just about every way – both good and bad – which was evident when evaluating Penn State’s two sophomore quarterbacks during Saturday’s Blue-White Game.

Steven Bench, the backup to Matt McGloin last year, took the field first with the first-team offense, which could indicate the coaches felt he had a slight edge this spring. But junior college transfer Ferguson also got his share of opportunities with the first-team offense, and while both showed strengths, each quarterback also displayed areas of concern.

Bill O’Brien once again said he’s no closer to selecting a frontrunner at quarterback based on Saturday or the spring as a whole.

“I thought they both produced,” the coach said. “I thought they both had some nice throws [and] both did some decent things out there today.”

O’Brien plans to go back and individually review all the film from the quarterbacks during the spring to help his evaluation.

Both quarterbacks finished 9-of-15 Saturday, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90. Bench threw one TD, while Ferguson tossed a pair.

“There’s not too many differences,” receiver Allen Robinson said when describing the two quarterbacks.

Robinson also said both quarterbacks have a strong arm, but Ferguson clearly had the advantage in that department Saturday. Bench had two short out routes flutter on him as he tried to throw off his back foot, and in a real game, either could have been a potential pick-6.

Bench and Ferguson both showed good footwork moving in and out of the pocket when necessary, but Ferguson appeared indecisive on several occasions and took off running instead of attempting a throw.

Ferguson showed perhaps the best upside but also biggest downside in a span of five plays late in the first half. He floated a pass that was nearly intercepted, then came right back with good footwork in the pocket before firing a bullet 20 yards down the middle to tight end Jesse James. He followed that up with a solid throw on a 12-yard out route to Matt Zanelatto to the right sideline.

But as good as those two throws were, Ferguson was nearly picked off again on his next pass, then was sacked on the final play of the half.

Bench led TD drives on the first series of each half, the latter ending with a 6-yard strike to tight end Brent Wilkerson. Ferguson nearly overthrew a wide open James in the end zone in the second quarter, but it was ruled a touchdown despite James appearing to catch it going out of bounds.

Ferguson later turned in solid play on the final TD of the day. He again showed good footwork scrambling to his right and threw a 5-yard scoring strike on the run to receiver Richy Anderson.

“As far as them being able to recognize coverages and as far as them learning quickly, it’s two good things that they both can do,” Robinson said.

Bench is more familiar with the offense, having been in the system for a year already, and the fact that Ferguson is neck and neck in the race is a testament to him, since he only arrived on campus in January.

Center Ty Howle and right guard John Urschel are among the PSU players who have made a point of helping Ferguson feel comfortable being on a new team so far away from home.

“With home coming form California, I think as a team we tried to take him under our wing,” Robinson said. “We know how it can be for somebody far from home and especially coming in January, so he’s definitely gotten real well acclimated with the team.”

The players already knew Bench, so to have a new guy come in and try to assume such a major leadership role as quarterback can be a big challenge.

“I know it’s probably hard on him to come to a team where the guys don’t really know him too much,” Robinson said of Ferguson. “You don’t want to step on any toes or anything. But I’d say he’s come in and shown leadership, shown great demeanor in the huddle, so we definitely trust him.”

The quarterback competition will continue throughout the summer and into the fall, and prized recruit Christian Hackenberg will be thrown into the mix when he arrives on campus. Since there seems to be very little separating Bench and Ferguson from a skills standpoint, the biggest thing both of them have accomplished so far has been merely to stay in the competition.

“They’ve learned the playbook very well, so just learning the playbook is what they needed to worry about in the spring,” James said. “They’re both talented.”

It doesn’t matter who the starting quarterback is to linebacker Mike Hull because all he’s concerned with is one thing.

“We want the guy who’s going to get us the most wins,” Hull said.