Category Archives: Penn State Football

4 Things to Know About the 2016 PSU Blue White Game

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Following a 7-6 2015 campaign that featured a five-game winning streak and a four-game losing streak, many Penn State Nittany Lions football fans circled the 2016 Blue & White Game on the calendars back in December.

It will unfold on Saturday, April 16 at Beaver Stadium, and it will begin at or very near 2 PM. Here are four important things to know about the game that gives all in attendance plenty to sink their teeth into and discuss in the months leading up to the 2016 season.

The Team’s Arrival   

The official team bus for the 2016 Nittany Lions is scheduled to arrive at the corner of Curtain Road and Porter Road at approximately 12:45 PM. The team will filter into the stadium soon thereafter, making themselves available for autographs from 1:15 to 2PM. It is an excellent opportunity for fans of all ages to connect with the players that they will be seeing and rooting for during high-stakes games broadcast on national television this fall.

The 2016 Blue White Game is going to be one of the most popular to date. The last several years have featured crowds greater than 50,000, and the high-water mark is 70,000. For that many folks to attend what is essentially a spring practice is one of the most impressive off-season feats in all of college football.

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The Bell Cow

Penn State has obviously lost quarterback Christian Hackenberg, tight end Kyle Carter, center Angelo Mangiro and a half dozen very talented defensive players as a result of graduation or entrance into the 2015 NFL Draft. This reality will obviously have an impact on the squad. But they return a fierce collection of talented wide receivers and valuable members of the secondary. Oh, there’s also Saquon Barkley.

The Big 10 Freshman of the Year in 2015 will be returning with more experience, and a bit more size and strength. The 5′ 11″ 220-pound running back out of The Bronx is headed for big things at the pro level.

For the next few years, he will be showing off his talents on the gridiron in Happy Valley. His 1,076-yard freshman year put him alongside some of the greats in college football history. He put the ball across the goal line a total of eight times last year. Amazingly, both of these totals are expected to increase in 2016.

Walking a Thin Offensive Line

The offensive line gave up nearly 100 sacks over the last two seasons, a number that simply has to decrease if the Many Lines are going to compete for late-December and early-January bowl games.

Whoever ends up going under center will likely be a much more mobile athlete then was Hackenberg, which will make the offense more kinetic and less likely to build rust on any given drive. The squad lost only one of their five starters on the offensive line to graduation.

The defensive line will need to be rebuilt quickly by head coach James Franklin after the departure of defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. Solace can be found in the fact that the defensive line positions have been recruited heavily since the arrival of the current coach on campus.

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Quick 2016 Outlook

The 2016 Penn State regular season schedule begins with a September 3 showdown against Kent State, and immediately moves to the large stage of Heinz Field the following weekend, where they will square off against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Nittany Lions will travel to The Big House on September 24 to take on a resurgent Michigan Wolverines squad, but they will square off against OSU, Iowa and MSU in the comfort of Beaver Stadium in the following weeks and months.

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Georgia Bulldogs to Out-Roar Nittany Lions in 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl?

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The Penn State Nittany Lions will take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida early on Saturday, January 2. The matchup represents a pairing of two squads who had much lofty hopes heading into the 2015 season.

Penn State will come in at 7-5, and the Bulldogs come into the early-January bowl with a respectable mark of 9-3. Georgia started 2015 with a stacked fleet of talented running backs, only to lose Heisman Trophy-favorite Nick Chubb to a gruesome knee injury in a mid-October loss at Tennessee.

The squad rebounded admirably in the weeks since, going 5-1 to complete the season, highlighted by a historically embarrassing loss in The Swap against the Florida Gators on Halloween. The Bulldogs finished the year with the eighth-ranked defense overall and the first-ranked defense in all of college football against the pass.

These impressive statistics make it a bit more puzzling as to why longtime head coach Mark Richt was unceremoniously dismissed following the final game after a decade and a of solid service in Athens. He quickly landed in Miami, where he will be the head coach of the Hurricanes moving forward. The Bulldogs recently promoted Kirby Smart to the coveted position.

Penn State had a season to both forget and remember. The 2015 campaign featured a five-game winning streak and a very impressive 39-0 beat down of Illinois on Halloween, but they lost at Temple to begin the season and finished out the year 0-3 against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State.

By the numbers, this game will match Penn State’s anemic 103rd-ranked overall offensive “attack” versus Georgia’s 74th-ranked offensive “assault.” For two squads known for stockpiling athletes on the advancing side of the football and churning out huge point totals against non-conference opponents, these marks are surprising on both fronts. A lot of points have been scored so far this bowl season, including a handful of games that eclipsed the Las Vegas total point prediction by a dozen or so. The smart money is on this one staying below 50.

How will this one unfold? Everything points towards the Georgia Bulldogs being able to control the time of possession and put Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in a lot of third and long situations. If the Junior is indeed entertaining ideas of heading to the professional level next year, he will have to have a very strong game on Saturday order to give himself a chance of getting drafted in the top few rounds.   Prediction: Penn State 18 Georgia 26

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Penn State Fires Engineer of Anemic 2015 Offense

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Following a 55-16 defeat at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans and a year littered with frustrating underperformance, the powers that be at Penn State decided to part ways with offensive coordinator John Donovan.

The 41-year-old New Jersey native came with head coach James Franklin from Vanderbilt in early 2014. When playcalling is questioned and point totals are not as high as they should be, it is often the offensive coordinator who is the first to feel the heat. Such is the situation that unfolded in Happy Valley, and the Nittany Lions are currently in the initial phases of a search for quality replacement.

Whoever takes over will likely not have the benefits of Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, as the Junior will almost certainly declare for the 2016 NFL Draft following this season. In a way, this creates a blank slate for the new coordinator to turn the page and move forward while putting his fingerprint on the program immediately. In another sense, it is a huge loss that is going to be almost impossible to replace leading up to another daunting 2016 regular season schedule.

A look at this year’s team and this year schedule provide some clear evidence as to why a change needed to be made.

From a statistical standpoint, the Penn State offense was nothing short of embarrassing in 2015. They ranked 100th overall running the ball at 135 yards-per-game and 79th through the air with just over 200 passing yards-per-game. Hopes were high going into the year that Hackenberg and the rest of the stars would allow the team to compete for a Big 10 trophy, but their 4-4 conference mark put them nowhere close to that.

A frustrating loss to a Temple squad that turned out to be far better than expected kicked off the season. Hackenberg looked tentative, confused and aside from the first few drives of the game, Penn State showed no punch. Five straight wins had everybody excited and the fan base back on board, but a 38-10 loss at Ohio State was a clear indication that the program was a cut below the elite squads they so desperately hoped to join this year.

Three consecutive losses to end the season, including scoring only 16 points against Michigan and Michigan State on consecutive weekends, was clearly the final straw. Here’s hoping the squad gets the best candidate in the fold, and soon.

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Is Sparty into College Football Playoff with Win Over Penn St?

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In a weekend full of huge matchups that will determine conference and playoff positioning, the Penn State Nittany Lions will take on Michigan State in East Lansing. The Spartans are riding high after a huge upset victory over the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus.

MSU has yet to break into the exclusive top-4 despite the fact that they have lost only one game, a heartbreaking one-point loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. They’ve handled the rest of their schedule very well, including a three-point victory over Oregon in early September and the miracle, historic comeback victory in the final seconds against Michigan in Ann Arbor in mid-October.

Last weekend’s victory over the Buckeyes was accomplished by backup quarterbacks, and it is still unclear whether Connor Cook will play in this game. Logic indicates that if the squad is good enough to beat the Buckeyes with a couple backups running the show, it might be a good reason to continue to rest Cook in preparation for a possible spot in the 2015 College Football Playoff. However, if the Spartans lose to Penn State, sitting out Cook will be a very easy move to second-guess.

The Penn State season continues to be a baffling sequence of events that has been equal parts uplifting and disappointing. They went into a mid-October game at Ohio State with a 5-1 record and presumably a legitimate chance to knock off the Buckeyes. After leaving Columbus licking their wounds, they have gone 2-2 in the weeks since while plowing through their conference schedule.

A victory here for the Nittany Lions would be huge. It would take them to 8-4, put them in contention for a late-December bowl game and end the regular season on a high note. It’s no secret that quarterback Christian Hackenberg will have to have one of the best games of his college career to put up a high point total against one of the most talented and confident defenses in college football.

Hackenberg is the author of the 112th-ranked offense in the FCS, which is a bit puzzling considering he was one of the most productive and highly-touted high school quarterbacks when he arrived on campus three years ago.

Expect this game to be ugly, low-scoring and full of field goals. Whether or not Cook plays is obviously a huge factor as to how the game unfolds. Let’s assume that he will. Prediction: Penn State 13 Michigan State 33

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Nittany Lions Ready for Showdown with Illini

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The Penn State Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gate against a tough Temple team on opening day, and they lost by four touchdowns in Columbus to the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes a few Saturdays ago. Other than those two blemishes, they have put together a very impressive season.

During last Saturday’s win at Maryland, the team showed that they have a toughness and resiliency akin to top-flight college football programs. They left town with a 31-30 victory following their second consecutive road game. The squad has come back home and practiced in Happy Valley all week in preparation for this Saturday’s showdown against Illinois.

The Fighting Illini come in with a 4-3 overall record and a 1-2 record in the Big Ten. They are at the bottom looking up at the major players, and the Lions will need to dispatch of the squad if they want to be considered in this exclusive bunch.

Penn State has increasingly become a team that leans on the running game instead of the arm of Christian Hackenberg. Freshman Saquon Barkley has shown amazing talents in just a half-dozen games this season, racking up over 600 yards and four touchdowns by way of an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry. He is an explosive runner who makes his way through small holes quickly and has keen awareness of both the first down chains and the importance of protecting the football.

Even though the overall statistics are not gaudy, Penn State is a very difficult team to stop when Christian Hackenberg is handling the ball well and making good decisions. The now Junior arrived on campus with incredibly lofty expectations a few years ago, and he has done his best to live up to them. Although some would argue that his NFL stock is lower than many predicted when he began his freshman season, that is simply a testament to the pedigree of so many defenses he has played.

Illinois has a solid stop unit, and they are keeping their opponents under 200 yards through the air and under 150 yards on the ground. If they do accomplish both of these feast against Penn State, there is a very good chance they win this football game. Although they come into the game with a shaky 4-3 record, the oddsmakers in Vegas have only made Penn State a five point favorite, which means that they expect this game to be very close. Prediction: Illinois 17 Penn State 21

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Penn State Travels to Columbus: Recipe for an Upset?

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After an off-season filled with positive news and lofty anticipations, the Penn State Nittany Lions came out and laid an egg at Temple to begin their season, losing by 17 points as seven-point favorites in Las Vegas.

In the five Saturdays since, they have easily dispatched of each of their opponents, running their record to 5-1 and once again exciting a large and passionate fan base in Happy Valley.

Their schedule is one of the most interesting and challenging in all of college football. The advantages involved with a stretch of five consecutive home games will come to an end this weekend when they travel to Columbus to face the #1-overall ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State comes into the game is a 17-point Vegas favorite and owners of a 6-0 record. But the Buckeyes have shown some weaknesses throughout the course of their first half dozen games, including a close victory over Northern Illinois on September 19 and a huge scare at Indiana two weeks ago.

Urban Meyer and his talented bunch allowed Maryland, a huge underdog, to hang around for the majority of the 60 minutes of last weekend’s affair. Translated to common terms, Ohio State has allowed opponents to hang around for much longer than a #1 squad typically would, indicating that they are perhaps ripe for an upset.

Will it come this weekend? Probably not.

Ohio State’s 2014 championship season was so unique and unusual, they are actually using the first half of the 2015 season to get their sea legs underneath them and figure out exactly what role each player will fulfill. Being stacked with too much talent is a problem that every coach in college football would love to have, and once Meyer figures out the exact buttons to push at the exact times, the Buckeyes will be stronger than ever.

Ranked 26th overall on offense and 18th overall on defense – highlighted by the ninth overall ranked passing defense in the nation – Ohio State will definitely make things difficult for the Nittany Lions on both sides of the football.

If Penn State is going to emerge with the biggest upset victory of the college football season to this point, they will need to lean heavily on their defense and make the game a low-scoring affair. Few fans expected that Christian Hackenberg’s efforts through the air would only amount to the 96th-overall ranked passing attack in the FBS, but that is exactly the case halfway through the year. They will need to win the turnover battle as well as the special teams battle to keep this one close heading into the fourth quarter. The more likely outcome is Ohio State by about two touchdowns.

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Nittany Lions Poised to Clash with Army Team Coming Off Huge Win

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The Army West Point Black Knights won their first game on the road in the last 21 attempts this past Saturday at Eastern Michigan, and they will be looking to keep the momentum going when they head into Happy Valley for a showdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday.

While there is a very slim chance that Army will leave the field with a victory, all esteemed programs such as Penn State are honored to be able to play military academies known for their grit, determination and toughness from the opening kick until the final whistle.

Penn State has showed plenty of fight and toughness over the last three games after being absolutely embarrassed in Philadelphia against a tough Temple squad to start the season. At home against San Diego state this past Saturday, the Nittany Lions had their way with their opponent in virtually every sense.

Led by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State racked up 400 yards on exactly 70 plays from scrimmage. Compare this to the anemic 180 yards they gained on 52 players in the aforementioned opener against Temple, and the level of improvement was enough for many Penn State fans to breathe a deep sigh of relief.

In order for them to continue the march toward their lofty goals in 2015, they will have to dispatch of this Army team by a handful of touchdowns. For the Black Knights, accomplishing gains through the air and stopping opponents from doing so have both been ongoing issues. They’ll come into this game with the 118th-overall ranked passing offense, and the 93rd-ranked overall defense against the pass. They are gaining less than 100 yards per game through the air and allowing well over 250.

This creates a situation where Army must successfully run the ball throughout the game in order to keep the chains moving and have any chance of stacking up points. This is another glaring problem, as Penn State has the 13th-ranked overall run defense, allowing just a fraction over 90 yards on the ground per game.

For those savvy in the art of college football game planning, these stats have basically backed Army into a corner where they will need to throw the ball much more than they are comfortable with in order to compete. That could play right into the hands of a hungry Penn State defense, and this could be a blowout by halftime.

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Crystal Ball: Chrstian Hackenberg’s Future

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When Christian Hackenberg arrived on campus in Happy Valley as a 6′ 4″ 18-year-old in the spring of 2013, hopes were sky-high. The pocket passer came out of Fort Union Military Academy in Virginia, and ESPN ranked him as the single best pro-style quarterback in all of the 2013 college freshman class.

He won Big 10 Freshman of the Week five times in his first dozen games and tossed twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. It appeared as though Hackenberg would be a surefire first-rounder in NFL after three quick seasons.

Unfortunately, Hackenberg’s sophomore campaign was disappointing by all standards. Dedicated fans of his wrote it off to the fact that there were changes in the coaching staff and inconsistencies in the offensive game plan.

His junior year began just a few weeks ago, and many of the most important talking heads in the business agreed that he had as much pressure as anyone in all of college football heading into the 2015 season. A couple games in, it would be difficult to classify Hackenberg as anything more than a middle-of-the-road quarterback. He’s barely eclipsed 100 passing yards in each of his first two games, and his completion percentage sags below 50%.

Although Penn State beat Buffalo by a couple of touchdowns in Week 2, Hackenberg was outperformed by an unknown Bulls QB who certainly will not entertain ideas of being drafted in the NFL. Should Hackenberg?

At this point in time, it seems as though he would be a low round, low-risk prospect. He still has the size and strength to compete at the professional level, but teams in need of a quarterback who can go into a professional system immediately would likely pass on Hackenberg given what he has shown them in the last year and a half.

The most likely scenario involves the 20-year-old out of Lehighton, Pennsylvania catching on with a team as a third or perhaps second stringer heading into his first preseason. It is a brutal reality for those on the cusp of making teams, but his potential value at the professional level will likely be judged by a handful of preseason series under center featuring fellow second and third stringers hoping to play football for living.

Hackenberg is a likable guy and a hard worker. Fans will be hoping for the best this season and the next, but without a serious uptick in areas such as calmly surveying the field in long yardage situations and confidently throwing the deep ball, Hackenberg’s glory days will forever be his 2013 season at the helm of the Nittany Lions.

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PSU Falls Short of Victory and Expectations at Temple

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Penn State Football fans came into 2015 with a hopefulness and excitement that reached peaks not seen during the past several seasons. Highly-touted Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is now a junior, and although his soph campaign didn’t go very well, it still appears to many that the young man has the mold of a professional quarterback.

Everything went according to plan throughout the first 15 minutes of a tough opening day road game against the temple Owls. Penn State stymied the Owl offensive attack, forcing a handful of punts on their first few possessions. State found holes in the line and secondary via their sizable offensive line, getting  out to a 10-0 lead just a handful of minutes in.

Sadly, the joy and fortune was short-lived. Temple coaches quickly regrouped and game planned an approach that backed Hackenberg into a corner, making the PSU offense afraid to take risks downfield or even throw the ball across the middle for short yardage. Instead, Hackenberg began to rely on hitting running backs and tight ends in the flat after blitzers came free, and the temperature in the pocket got hotter as the game wore on.

When the final whistle blew, State left town on the short end of a 27-10 score. As they made the quick trip back to Happy Valley, a number of question marks emerged as the hope and excitement that fans brought into the season tapered off in the hours following a disappointing afternoon.

Fans who follow this program closely know that they have endured unimaginable adversity over the last handful of seasons. Following the abrupt and scandalous departure of Joe Paterno and his death soon thereafter, the cornerstones that the program were built upon crumbled before the eyes of millions of folks who make up the conglomeration of students, alumni and passionate fans of the University and its football team.

But alas, the sky is not falling. Penn State will likely be favorites in each of their next five matchups, which will all take place in University Park. This streak will hopefully prepare them for an October 17 showdown at Ohio State against a Buckeye team that will almost certainly come into the game undefeated.

If the Nittany Lions waltz into the battle with a record of 5-1, they could make things far more interesting than anyone dares to envision at this point in time. To a large extent, Hackenberg will determine the success of this team, and no one in all of college football has more pressure upon their still-growing shoulders.

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Solid Recruiting Class Led by Offensive Line Giants

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Penn State head coach James Franklin appears to be poised for a long tenure in Happy Valley, and he has already shown his power to recruit top-flight high school seniors. The 2015 Nittany Lions recruiting class features over two dozen players who are already enrolled at the University and practicing in hopes of making an impact as soon as opening day of this year.

Saquon Barkley is a strong and lightning fast 5′ 11″ running back out of Whitehall, Pennsylvania who will likely be plugged into the multi-headed monster that is the Penn State backfield immediately. His knack for turning from a blocker into a receiver in the flat and his sticky hands will both be valuable commodities.

Garrett Taylor is a highly touted cornerback out of Richmond, Virginia. While on the sidelines during one of his official visits last year, Taylor wore a Richard Sherman “Shut Down” t-shirt. A bold move from a bold man who clearly has big intentions.

The Nittany Lions made two huge recruiting scores both literally and figuratively when they were able to officially sign Sterling Jenkins out of Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh and junior-college transfer Paris Palmer out of Plymouth, North Carolina. Ready for the numbers on these two offensive lineman? How does 6′ 8″ and 305 pounds sound?

Both players are just a few inches away from setting the all-time record for height at the college football level. In a year’s time, they will likely be anchoring an o-line that protects Christian Hackenberg as he embarks on his Senior season. It is almost unfathomable to imagine two men the better part of 7 feet tall with strength and agility anchoring the offensive attack.

Penn State also inked 6′ 5″ offensive tackle Ryan Bates out of Warminster, Pennsylvania and 6′ 4″ offensive guard Steven Gonzales out of Union City High School in New Jersey. Most major programs recruited up to a half-dozen offensive lineman, but no other program was able to lure such an impressive, intimidating and diverse collection of young talent.

Another name Penn State football fans might want to keep an eye out for his Tommy Stevens. The 6′ 4″ 200-pounder out of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis was recruited as both a quarterback and defensive tackle – an extremely rare combination at any level of college football.