Defense ahead of offense
UNIVERSITY PARK – One thing that seemed obvious Saturday is that Penn State’s defense is ahead of the offense, which coach James Franklin freely admitted.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” he said. “It was either that, or we really wanted to work on our punting game.”
The Blue and White teams combined for 12 punts, with new kicker Chris Gulla averaging 39.2 yards.
“We have a lot of areas to get better in a lot of situations,” Franklin said. “I think in the long run, we’re going to be in really good shape. We have work to do.”
Maybe, however, not as much work as it might seem on offense.
Offensive coordinator John Donovan came into the media room after Franklin and, when told the head coach said the defense is ahead, Donovan said, “I don’t know if I would say that.”
“We’ve had a couple scrimmages prior to this, and I thought we did pretty well,” he added.
D-line impresses Franklin
Not surprisingly, Franklin said the area that impressed him the most Saturday was the defensive line, which has been the case all spring.
“The defensive line is the position where we have the most depth, the most talent,” the coach said. “That probably stood out to me the most.”
The starting defensive line included Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan at the ends and Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson at the tackles.
Olaniyan had three tackles for loss and 2 sacks, while Zettel had two tackles for loss and a sack.
Lots of skin on the line
Speaking of Zettel, he had an interesting look Saturday with a cutoff jersey, showing his bare midriff. Those used to be somewhat common in the 1980s but aren’t seen much anymore.
“It was hot out, just having fun,” Zettel said.
Asked if his teammates gave him a hard time about his bare belly being on display, he added, “Yeah, they were just joking around a little bit just because I have some belly hair there. It was funny.”
Bill Belton started at running back for the first-team offense, while Zach Zwinak didn’t play.
The first-team offensive line included: LT Donovan Smith, LG Derek Dowrey, C Wendy Laurent, RG Brian Gaia and RT Brendan Mahon. Dowrey and Gaia have been moved over from the defensive line.
Mike Hull, as expected, started at middle linebacker, flanked by Brandon Bell and Matthew Baney. Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams were the cornerbacks, while Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser were the safeties.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had particularly high praise for Amos.
“Let me say this: I think Adrian Amos has as unique a skill set as I’ve ever been around. He can play corner, he can play safety, he can play nickel. If he makes the commitment to do it, he can be as good as any safety or defensive back in college football.”
Franklin finally confirmed that guard Anthony Alosi has been “indefinitely suspended from the team right now,” which hurts the offensive line’s depth even more.
Alosi has been charged with simple assault and harassment after a fight in State College on Jan. 31. Alosi allegedly kicked a man in the head, and the man had to be taken to the hospital with various injuries.
Fourth-string running back Cole Chiappialle got the most attention among the backups Saturday with his two TDs and 63 yards rushing, but there were several other players who had a solid day.
Linebacker Matthew Baney had an interception that he returned 28 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s done a nice job,” Franklin said. “He’s a really good football player. He’s a local kid. He’s a coach’s kid. He’s a guy who I think is maximizing his experience here. We’re going to evaluate his spring and see what type of role he is going to have for us. He’s been very productive this spring.”
Cornerback Trevor Williams and safety Ryan Keiser also each had an interception. Olaniyan led the way with five tackles, while cornerbacks Da’Quan Davis and Devin Pryor had four apiece for the White team.
QBs on White team struggle
D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple are both walk-ons, and they had a tough time getting much going leading the White team.
Whipple completed 10-of-17 passes for 68 yards but threw two interceptions. Whipple was just 1-of-6 for 7 yards and also threw a pick.
Jim O’Hora Award (most improved defensive player): DT Anthony Zettel
Red Worrell Award (most improved offensive player): G Brian Gaia
Coaches Special Teams Award (new this year): PK Sam Ficken
Frank Patrick Total Commitment Award: DE Deion Barnes
News and notes
PK Sam Ficken missed an extra point in the third quarter. Ficken has had an up-and-down career but was said to have enjoyed a good spring. After C Wendy Laurent limped off with a leg injury, Angelo Mangiro took over at that spot. Captains for the Blue team were QB Christian Hackenberg, LB Mike Hull, PK Sam Ficken and injured G Miles Dieffenbach. The White team captains were QB D.J. Crook and DE Carl Nassib. The first-team return men on kickoffs were Akeel Lynch and Adrian Amos.