By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The jump from high school ball to collegiate level competition can be daunting to most young pitchers.
The hitters in college are bigger, stronger, smarter, and flat out better than anyone a rising freshman pitcher has had to face in their lives. Most, if not all, freshman pitchers take a year to work on their game in practice and, if they're lucky, occupy a bullpen slot to warm up to the college game.
But Justin Hagenman is not most freshman pitchers.
Hagenman has come to Happy Valley and immediately asserted himself as the ace of the Nittany Lion staff in year one. The quick leap and a sharp increase in talent hasn't fazed the 19-year-old from Voorhees, N.J., one bit.
"I don't think you should ever expect a true freshman to come in and be an ace because I don't think that's fair to that kid, but you don't ever put a limit on a guy," said head coach Rob Cooper. "If you come in with the mindset 'hey I just want to be [a part of] the roster or just want to get a few innings' well then you're slowing down your growth as a player, and it's something he hasn't done. He's a guy that wants to win and wants to compete and is doing a heck of a job of it."
Cooper and his coaching staff weren't exactly going after Hagenman hard when he was in high school at Bishop Eustace. They were looking more seriously at other players on his summer team and in the area when both his high school coach and summer coach approached Cooper and urged him to take a closer look at Hagenman.
Cooper did, and it sure has paid off.
In his first year in Blue and White Hagenman has started in eight games and boasts a 4-1 record, which is tops among Penn State's starting core. Hagenman has thrown a team high 52 innings to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, and he is third on the team with 27 strikeouts in 2016.
His 52 innings pitched is the fifth highest total in the Big Ten and his 2.25 ERA ranks ninth in the conference.
"He's just a silent assassin," Cooper said. "He's a competitor that just kind of goes about his business, and you look up at the end of the game and you've got a chance to win it. He's a lot of fun to coach because he takes a lot of responsibility to make himself better, he doesn't make excuses and he wants to help Penn State win."
"My goal was to come in here and be able to start games for Penn State," said Hagenman. "Not a numbers goal but being able to keep my team in games and give them a chance to win all the games that I started."
Hagenman has done just that and more for the Nittany Lions this season. Penn State has won six of his eight starts, and his only loss was to South Carolina, which ranks third in the country at 28-6. In that game, Hagenman held the Gamecocks to just two earned runs in 5.2 innings of work.
Hagenman was heavily influenced by his father, Dan, growing up. He learned everything about the game from his dad and gives all the credit to him.
"From the youngest age he was the one that got me into baseball," said Hagenman. "He coached me throughout and he's probably my best coach to this day. He's done everything on the baseball side of it."
No matter the situation, Hagenman has competed and put his team in a position to win every game he's started. There are no nerves. This kid is simply outperforming the expectations at his age.
"I think that's one of the best things that I can do. It's the controllables," said Hagenman. "Stuff like your emotions on the mound and attacking hitters, that stuff is all something that I can control. I can't really control whether they hit it, but I can trust my stuff and being able to go right at them is something that I can do."
Go right at them he has, and hit him they haven't.
Hagenman imprinted his name as a force to be reckoned with even before the season started. During Penn State's trip to Cuba in the fall, Hagenman became the first U.S. pitcher to earn a win over a Cuban National Series team in a matchup against Mayabeque. Hagenman allowed just one run and struck out three in his historical debut for the Nittany Lions.
He hasn't taken any steps back since that day. In fact, he's only improved. Of the 198 batters he's faced so far this season, Hagenman has walked only nine. There are seven pitchers on Penn State's roster who have surrendered more walks than Hagenman, and none of them have pitched more than 44 innings.
"It's an unbelievable stat," Cooper said. "It just shows that he goes after guys and he competes. He led off an inning with a walk and you could tell he wasn't happy with it, and that's because you're not used to it. The biggest thing is he just goes out and competes, and he believes in his team behind him and he believes in his ability."
"I just try to throw strikes and get ahead in the count," said Hagenman. "I'm inviting contact, so if they want to swing that's what we're going for."
That confidence is what has brought so much success to Hagenman so early on in his career. In turn, it has brought Penn State the success it hasn't produced in a while.
Penn State (19-14) is off to its best start since 2011. The Lions' 3.31 team ERA is approximately 1.82 runs lower than last season's and ranks 32nd nationally and third in the Big Ten.
Hagenman is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons for this resurgence, and he'll be around for quite a while longer.
"Just being myself, that's the first thing [my coaches] told me when they were recruiting me and then when I got here. They don't want me to be anything that I'm not, and that's what I've done."
Recently in All-Sports Blog Category
By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 13th time during spring drills on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com has provided a break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we wrap up with the quarterbacks.
Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost: 4/2
Who's Back: Billy Fessler (Jr./So.), Trace McSorley (Jr./So.), Tommy Stevens (So./Fr.), Jake Zembiec (Fr./Fr.)
No unit on the depth chart faced a bigger learning curve during spring practice than the quarterbacks. Under the direction of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead, the Nittany Lions worked diligently to install a new offensive scheme that will debut in the fall.
Meetings and efforts to go about the installation process began in the winter, but the unit did not get to take things onto the field until March 18 when spring practice began. Largely, it has been a spring marked by great progress for the Nittany Lion quarterbacks. The unit has adapted to the quick pace and new scheme with great focus and work ethic.
In addition to learning the intricacies of a new offense, the quarterbacks entered the spring period replacing the shoes of the program's all-time leading passer. Christian Hackenberg will be part of the NFL Draft at the end of the month, and the quarterback position will have a new starter for the first time since the start of 2013.
Sophomore Trace McSorley returns as the most experienced player at quarterback. The Virginia native redshirted as a true freshman in 2014. The 6-foot, 199-pound signal caller appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2015. That list of games included significant time at the TaxSlayer Bowl. McSorley completed 14-of-27 passes for 142 yards and tossed two touchdown passes.
He made very good progress during the 2015 season and during winter conditioning drills. McSorley can hurt a defense with his elusive abilities with the ball in his hands. He helped lead Briar Woods High School to four state championship games, winning three titles.
Redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens has split reps with McSorley during spring practice. The Indianapolis product was instrumental on the scout team offense during the 2015 season. Now, Stevens is firmly in the mix to contend for the starting assignment following a strong offseason.
The 6-foot-4, 219-pound athlete added eight pounds of muscle to his frame during the winter conditioning period. Stevens enrolled early during the winter of 2015 and is participating in spring practice for the second time in his career. Like McSorley, Stevens has adapted to learning the new offense very well and has put together a strong spring practice period.
Billy Fessler returns for his third season in the program. A redshirt sophomore, Fessler redshirted in 2014 and did not see any game action during the 2015 campaign. The Erie, Pa., native has been instrumental in helping the Nittany Lions prepare each week and plays a critical role as a sideline signal caller for the new no huddle offense.
New to the quarterback group is early enrollee Jake Zembiec. The Rochester, N.Y., product graduated from Aquinas Institute in December and started classes at Penn State in January. After going through winter conditioning, Zembiec's experience in learning the new offense has been invaluable for his development and adjustment to the college game.
All four quarterbacks are relishing in the opportunity to steer the new no huddle attack. The tempo of the offense rests on the shoulders of the quarterbacks, and the Lions have done a superb job growing with each passing day of spring practice.
Quoting Coach Moorhead:
"I think they have been very diligent in their approach to learning the offense and applying it on the field. I think they all have a great work ethic. I think at times during spring ball they have shown flashes of what we need from the position to be successful in the fall. So, I'm very excited about the potential. I think they've made the biggest strides mentally. Going form zero understanding of the offense to getting it entirely installed in about six days, they've done a great job really understanding the material and understanding the things it takes to be successful from a mental standpoint."
By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Penn State men's gymnastic team heads back to Columbus, Ohio this weekend for the 2016 NCAA Championships.
Being no strangers to the national stage, the Nittany Lions have won the championships 12 times already, the last one being in 2007.
"I've seen it all in my career," said head coach Randy Jepson. "I've had teams that dominate in regular season but then loss it in the championships, and I've had teams that battle their way to the championships and take it from behind."
The Lions recently came in fourth place at the Big Ten championships and bring back valuable lessons with them as they prepare for the NCAA championships.
"We have some things to work out still but I think we're standing at a good spot right now," said Jepson. "This is the healthiest we've been all season which is good, we're not a 100% but I'm glad we're better than where we were earlier in the season."
The championship breaks down into two sessions on Friday, April 15th, with the top three teams of both session I and session II competing for the team event finals on Saturday, April 16th.
"We've been really solid all around this year," said coach Jepson. "We've been really solid on rings and parallel bars, which is the event we've really been able to make the most gain on people in competition."
"High bars we've also been very solid on this year," he continued.
Although the team's been solid in the competition, they still aim to improve.
"If anything I would say we want to hit pommel horse," Jepson said. "Not that we're bad on that event, but it's not as strong as the rest of our routines and I think if we iron that out we'll be in great shape for the competition."
With the Blue and White just recently competing in the St. John Arena at Ohio State University, they're well-prepared for the setting of the NCAA competition.
"This is our third postseason in this arena, I think the guys will be very comfortable entering the arena," said Jepson. "It plays to our benefit we've seen the setting before and know what the teams we're competing against are."
"We're entering the weekend expecting no surprises, but also prepared for anything."
With a squad full of veterans such as Trevor Howard, Alexis Torres, and Leroy Clarke Jr. leading the team the Lions are keeping their spirits high.
The Nittany Lions have worked hard the entire season and they'll end their 2015-2016 campaign this weekend with hopes to finish on a high note.
"I always tell my guys anything can happen," said Jepson. "As long as we go out and do the job we're trained to do and have fun doing it we'll be fine, we just need to stay focused on the big picture and see what happens."
The competition will start at 1 p.m. on Friday, April 15th and extend into Saturday with the first event starting at 7 p.m.
By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Many consider the playoffs in any sport to be the start of a new season.
The same rings true for the Penn State Nittany Lion men's volleyball team as they begin their pursuit for their 18th consecutive EIVA postseason crown. Although the team has two games remaining on the regular season schedule, the group's mentality has somewhat shifted to the upcoming season, the postseason.
"We will try out a few guys and keep them fresh," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "But if we have a group of guys playing well, we want to keep it that way and give them as much playing time before the tournament as possible."
Senior captain Matt Seifert was quoted after the teams win against Sacred Heart saying that, "This is just one step for us, we have a lot more to go to accomplish what we want." That mentality from Penn State, that the regular season is just the beginning, is an idea of how poised and ready the team is entering postseason play. Although the Nittany Lion's are expected to win the EIVA, the conference is not an easy weekend by any means, and Pavlik was quick to reiterate that point.
"We know that this conference is tough and it's getting better so we took care of the first step, but there are teams in the EIVA that can beat us and we have to be ready during the tournament as well," Pavlik said.
The regular season has been up and down for the Nittany Lions, though the needle certainly seems to be pointing up for the Penn State team who has won six of its last eight contests. Though Penn State is playing some of its best volleyball of the season, Pavlik believes that it doesn't always matter how a team is heading in to the postseason, just so long as they play well when the time comes.
"I've seen it both ways," Pavlik said. "At the end of the day I don't know if it matters one way or another because when you watch enough volleyball you have seen it happen both ways. We just have to take care of our team and make sure we are playing as well as we can."
With the win, the EIVA playoffs will be hosted here at Rec Hall. After a final month that has had Penn State traveling all over the east coast to face EIVA, the Nittany Lions will be home for as long as their season will continue. The national finals will also be held in Happy Valley. If all goes well for Penn State, the furthest the Nittany Lions will have to travel is the 20 feet from their locker room to the main court at Rec Hall. For Penn State, the lack of travel is a commodity that they don't take for granted.
"It's huge for us," Pavlik said. "The fact that we don't have to travel just takes that part of the equation right out of the picture. It is a lot to worry about travel plans on top of actually game planning so the fact that we can stay at home and rest well and play in front of our fans is a big difference."
That difference will be present for as long as the season persists for Penn State. With two more games on the road against Charelston (WV) and George Mason, the Nittany Lions have a chance to close out the season on a high note and enter Happy Valley for what they hope is a playoff run.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Between the 2011 and 2015 seasons, the No. 14 Penn State men's lacrosse team (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) has appeared on television 11 times. By the end of the 2016 regular season, alone, the Nittany Lions will have appeared on national television seven times.
The importance of media coverage for the program has grown during head coach Jeff Tambroni's time at the helm of the Nittany Lions. With the introduction of the Big Ten conference for men's and women's lacrosse last season, it has become more important for Penn State's program to put its best foot forward when games appear on television.
During Tambroni's first season with Penn State in 2011, the Nittany Lions didn't have any regular season games aired on television. Again in 2012, Penn State didn't see television coverage.
However, in 2013 the Nittany Lions had four games broadcasted into fans' living rooms. The program's 15-12 win over Denver was the first game of the season to be broadcasted, followed by games against Lehigh and Towson. The Nittany Lions, who received an NCAA Tournament bid that year, had their first-round game against Yale aired on ESPNU.
Despite a successful season in 2013, the Nittany Lions had just one of their 2014 season games covered on live TV, a 9-7 loss to Villanova.
Last season Penn State reached a record-high level of coverage, having six games covered by live broadcasts. All of the Nittany Lions' Big Ten matchups were aired on TV.
With the introduction of the Big Ten conference for lacrosse during the 2015 season, coverage of the sport has expanded both within the conference and nationally.
"Through the course of the last number of years, with the addition of the Big Ten and some smaller successes, that's put us in the position to be here," said Tambroni. "We understand we have a long way to go but we definitely credit the Big Ten conference and the Big Ten Network for putting Penn State lacrosse probably in a position well before our time to have nationwide exposure, and the benefit of that is just astronomical."
Television exposure is key for coaches during recruiting, and for Penn State it's not any different. For high school prospects it can sometimes be difficult to make trips to colleges to watch prospective teams play in person, let alone be able to travel to State College.
"You try to connect with [recruits] over the summer and you hope they connect back with you other ways other than just coming to see games which is a little unrealistic for most people," said Tambroni. "But through sports information and television coverage you just have a huge advantage and also through your alumni base, which Penn State has a great one, and a recruiting base which we were trying to build when we first got here."
The advantages of being recognized by television coverage are overwhelmingly positive but coverage can sometimes present some challenges. Still regarded as a sport on the rise, collegiate lacrosse teams often have to decide between playing at unusual times or turning down coverage.
This season, on Saturday March 12, Penn State hosted the Harvard Crimson. The Nittany Lions won in a dramatic fashion in overtime against the Crimson, 13-12, however, the game started at 10 a.m. The unusually early start time was to allow for ESPNU coverage, but sacrificing start times is worth the exposure a team will receive.
Tambroni explained that as the program gathers more wins, and becomes a more successful brand in collegiate lacrosse, coverage is sure to increase, whether it is television or just media. Although teams don't have direct control over television coverage, Tambroni said teams do have control over the team's performance.
"It goes hand in hand with our own success," said Tambroni. "If you're not a very successful program or not a worldwide brand you're probably not going to be on television all that much and I think that makes a lot of sense, you just kind of have to live with that. I think the brand of Penn State put us at the forefront because we are such a popular brand, not Penn State lacrosse, but Penn State University."
Tambroni expanded on that comment to explain how if a team is doing well, networks will want to cover its games. It all comes down to a team's ability to win games and make audiences want to watch a competitive team play, whether they are Penn State fans or not.
In general, the coverage collegiate teams are seeing now is unprecedented and can only keep receiving more exposure as the sport continues to grow. For current collegiate players like Penn State's senior midfielder James Burke, being able to see the growth of lacrosse over the last four years has been something they are proud not only to witness, but also be a part of.
Hopeful that the growth of lacrosse will increase at youth, collegiate, and the professional levels, Burke has credited the Penn State community for embracing its local team. Burke explained that television coverage is great to help people learn the sport, but it's essential that players do their part to build relationships with members of the community.
"We've seen a larger incorporation of the youth programs," said Burke of lacrosse in State College. "We started working with them last fall to kind of get things going and then just around campus, the special promotions, stuff life that, we've started to expose people to the excitement of lacrosse."
Both Penn State and Johns Hopkins remain tied at No. 14 in the polls. Penn State hosts Johns Hopkins Sunday at 7 p.m. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.
By: Shannon Rostick, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State women's lacrosse team fell in their first loss at home against Cornell Wednesday afternoon, by a score of 10-7. The Nittany Lions fought hard, but the Big Red used their aggressive defense and dynamic offense to clinch a victory.
Penn State started off strong with sophomore Katie O'Donnell earning the first goal of the game, just three minutes into the first half.
After that, Cornell was able to gain possession off of the draw and brought the ball down to Penn State's goal, where they earned themselves the second goal of the game off a free position.
Junior Steph Lazo put in the next goal of the game to take the lead again, assisted by freshman Madison Carter, after beating out the defense and getting off a successful shot on an open goal.
Penn State continued their streak with senior Madison Cyr scoring another goal after gaining possession off of the draw.
Cyr followed that up with another yet another successful shot on the net, after she picked up a ground ball and was able to get an immediate shot off on goal around the 12-minute mark to give PSU a 4-1 lead.
At this point Cornell started to gain back momentum, netting five goals in the latter part of the first half, compared to Penn State's one goal, scored by senior Jenna Mosketti.
At the conclusion of the first half, Cornell held a lead of 6-5. This early lead was a result of Cornell's strong defense and long offensive possessions.
Head coach Missy Doherty discussed the team's play during the first half and how it affected the outcome of the game.
"We needed to be aggressive and we were playing on our heels too much waiting to see what the other team was going to do," said Doherty.
She also talked about the game as a whole and what she would have liked to see from her team to earn themselves a win.
"Cornell did a really good job of being aggressive and we just couldn't get into a rhythm. We weren't getting the draw and it's hard to get into a rhythm when you aren't getting those possessions," said Doherty.
Doherty also believes that it is essential for their offense to get shots off at crucial times to keep up the team's momentum, and that was just something that did not happen this game.
Going into the second half of the game, Penn State was only down by one point, giving them a good chance of earning a comeback.
Unfortunately, Cornell continued their four-goal streak from the first half and nabbed the next two goals in the second, bringing the score up to 8-5.
Cyr broke up this streak by faking it past multiple defenders and netting Penn State's sixth goal of the game, earning herself a hat-trick.
The momentum did not last long for the Nittany Lions, as Cornell came back and scored another two goals.
Senior Erika Spilker said that Cornell's frequent cuts on offense were a huge contributing factor to their success during the game, although she did say she thought the defense worked well together against their ivy league counterparts.
"Their offense does a lot of cuts and they had some good players, which made it a tough game, but we really worked as one defense today as opposed to individuals and that was good for us," said Spilker.
With the defense working hard to stop Cornell's strong offensive efforts, Penn State really needed to see some success from their own offense to try and even up the score.
The team was able to net one more goal in the game, thanks to Lazo, but it was not enough to earn a Penn State victory.
Lazo contributed much of Cornell's victory to their long possessions on offense, which took away many of the opportunities that she and the rest of the Penn State offense had to get off shots on net and score.
After a two-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions are looking to redeem themselves and earn another win in their season. Their next opportunity to earn that win is this Sunday, April 17 against Michigan State starting at 1 p.m.
By Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The shadows were just starting to cover a portion of the infield, as it appeared, at least briefly, that game one of the doubleheader vs. Bucknell Wednesday, would belong to the Bison. Penn State's Shelby Miller had other ideas.
The junior from Sugar Land, Texas launched a game-tying bomb over the right field wall halfway to Pegula Ice Arena in the bottom half of the sixth inning. Miller shuffled towards the pitcher, Ichiro style, and unleashed a forceful swing, hitting her eighth home run of the 2016 campaign.
Miller wasn't the only Nittany Lion batting at the top of the order that produced. Second baseman Mollie Sorenson, batting second in game one of the doubleheader, singled home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, taking an incredibly important game from Bucknell in the process. Penn State would not waste a dominating performance in the circle by Marleina Laubach, who tossed a complete game while giving up just one run.
Head coach Amanda Lehotak believes one of the keys to her team's success Wednesday was the timely hitting of the top of the order.
"One, two, three, they're usually the most consistent hitters. So for them to keep coming through like they have been all year is a big part of our offensive plan," said Lehotak.
Lehotak was also thrilled with Miller's display of power.
"We don't talk a lot about power, but to have that power, we can tie it up like Shelby Miller did," she added.
Game one went well for the top of the order, but could they do it again in the second? Yes, and it wouldn't take long. In the first inning, leadoff hitter Macy Jones lined a single to open the game. Sorenson would sacrifice her over after laying one down and Shelby Miller, who else, drove her in with a one-out double.
Jones would later homer in the third, and Miller would score in the same frame, pushing the Blue & White's lead to 4-0. Miller was happy to be able to start things off right for her team.
"It's very important in every game, to have [the top of the order] set the tone. We're the first ones to go up there every first inning of the game and we really like to set the tone," said Miller.
When asked about the pressure of batting late in games, Miller showed off why she is someone the Lions can rely on in clutch moments down the stretch.
"We're in those situations all the time, the game is all about pressure," she said. "It's different for me when I lead off, I don't put as much pressure on myself."
The key for Penn State down the stretch is to continue to get production from the top of the order, as the pitching and defense have held up well of late. With two important victories against Bucknell, the Nittany Lions are one step closer to playing in the NCAA tournament. The road continues over the weekend. Penn State will face Maryland at home for a three-game series beginning Friday night.
Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's 13th spring practice on Wednesday evening. A spring marked by good progress on both sides, the Nittany Lions will return to Beaver Stadium on Saturday to wrap up spring drills.
Hear from Coach Franklin and quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens following Wednesday's practice.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The reps have been invaluable. The progress has been significant. And the process has been a pleasure.
That's how quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens would best sum up the last four weeks of spring practice at the helm of the Nittany Lion offense.
Splitting reps throughout spring drills, McSorley and Stevens are just grazing the surface in their time commanding the new offense, but both are very optimistic with how things have gone and where the offensive unit can go from here.
"It's been a very good spring," said McSorley. "I think the offense has done a really good job picking things up. I think we are ahead of where we thought we would have been through (12) practices. We have been able to move the ball against our defense, which has been among the best in the nation during the past couple years. It's going to be exciting in the fall."
The offense began laying the groundwork of installing a new scheme immediately after the TaxSlayer Bowl. It was new for everyone in the offensive meeting room, which benefitted the young duo of returning quarterbacks. The entire group spent the spring learning together as one collective unit, and the on-field results have improved with each passing practice.
"Things have really become more efficient for the offense since the start of spring practice," said Stevens. "The pace at which we are getting in and out of plays has been very effective and at a high standard has been a big area of improvement."
Tempo has been the theme of the spring for the offensive players. McSorley, a redshirt sophomore, and Stevens, a redshirt freshman, are the men who set the pace at which the offense operates. When a play is over, the unit gets to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible before looking to the sideline for the next signal. There is no huddle for the quarterbacks to lead, and it's something both returning quarterbacks can't help but smile about.
"The no-huddle is awesome," Stevens said. "It puts the power in our hands."
"It falls on each guy to get where they need to be at a fast tempo and then look for the signal," said McSorley. "In a way, it almost takes a little bit off of the quarterback because each guy gets where they need to be and then looks at the signal to get ready for the snap. The tempo really gives you some momentum."
The swift pace at which the offense is operating lets the Lions dictate things when they have the ball. Penn State can be the aggressor, put a defense on its heels and make the opponent play faster than it may want to. McSorley and Stevens said that conditioning was a factor in the first three or four practices this spring, but the unit has taken a big step forward with the effectiveness of the tempo.
Additionally, the offense puts a premium on getting the skill players in space. The quarterbacks have plenty of options to find talent across the offense, and they are enjoying how many chances it gives the Lion athletes to make plays in the open field.
"I really like how the offense lets our athletes get in space and go one-on-one with a defender," said McSorley. "We have a lot of really good athletes on the outside and in the backfield, so letting those guys get out in space and make someone have to tackle, like Saquon (Barkley) one-on-one, more times than not a guy like him is going to make people miss."
McSorley and Stevens both lit up when asked about the weapons Penn State's offense will have at wide receiver in 2016. The wide receiver group is an impressive unit to watch on the practice field. It's a diverse group with size, speed, experience and some youth.
"I really like the variety of the group. We don't have one guy who you can lock in on," said McSorley. "Saeed (Blacknall) is really good down the field. Chris (Godwin) can do so many different things. DaeSean (Hamilton) is so precise with his routes and diagnosing the defense. Then you have the speed of (Brandon) Polk and DeAndre (Thompkins). We have Juwan (Johnson) and Irvin (Charles) coming in and making plays. We have so much size and speed that I think it's going to create problems for defenses."
McSorley spent 2015 as the primary backup behind Christian Hackenberg. He played in seven contests, including significant reps at the TaxSlayer Bowl. Stevens played a paramount role on the scout team during his redshirt season last fall. The move into the primary rotation on the offense has been an adjustment for the Indianapolis native, but it's one that he has relished.
"Getting the experience on the scout team was really important, but the number of meaningful reps I've had this spring has been great. Being able to compete and make the team better has been a lot of fun this spring," said Stevens.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead sets the tone for the unit every day. The Lions faced a steep learning curve this spring, but Coach Moorhead has put the group in a great spot to be successful on the field.
"Coach Moorhead brings a ton of energy and juice to practices and the meeting room," said Stevens. "He pushes us to get better every single day. He's always expecting a championship standard, and it's really challenging us to be at our best."
The Lions will have a couple more opportunities to grow before showcasing the new offense in front of the fans on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
"I look for the group to continue to get better each day," McSorley said. "We need to clean some things up that we aren't 100 percent certain on and just continue to grow. As an offense, we have a good grasp on the base playbook. At the spring game, we hope to give people a little taste of what is to come next year."
The quarterbacks are pleased with the progress, but the unit knows this is just the beginning of the process leading up to 2016. The first chapter will draw to a close on Saturday when spring drills commence.
"Ultimately, we are prepared and want to be confident in what we are doing. We are excited to finally get out there and compete in front of the fans on Saturday," said Stevens.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 12th during spring drills on Monday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the cornerbacks.
Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost: 9/2
Who's Back: Kyle Alston (Jr./Jr.), Christian Campbell (Jr./Jr.), Desi Davis (Jr./So.), Grant Haley (Jr./Jr.), Amani Oruwariye (Jr./So.), John Reid (So./So.), Troy Shorts (So./Fr.), Jordan Smith (Sr./Sr.), Garrett Taylor (So./Fr.)
Coach Terry Smith and the Nittany Lion cornerbacks entered the spring with the mindset that they can do their part in helping the team by challenging more balls and forcing more turnovers in the back end of the defense. A group mixed with experience and youthful talent, the Lion corners have put together a very productive spring and will head into the summer with confidence.
The unquestioned leader of the cornerback room is junior Grant Haley. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Georgia native played the best football of his career in the latter stages of 2015. Now, Haley is eager to lead the unit into 2016. He started in 11 games (missed first two due to injury) in 2015 and appeared in all 13 contests in 2014. Haley finished with 42 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, tied for the team-high in interceptions (2) and led the team with nine passes defended last fall. The junior has taken another step forward and will be among the top returnees on the defense.
Like Haley, John Reid played the best football of his season in the final few weeks of 2015. One of just four true freshmen to start a game, Reid appeared in all 13 contests during his first season on campus and started two games at corner. Named to ESPN.com's Big Ten All-Freshman team, Reid made 29 tackles and tied Haley for the team lead in interceptions with two. A student of the game, Reid made good strides in his first winter conditioning period and will play a key role on the defense and challenge for the starting spot alongside Haley.
Jordan Smith is one of just six seniors on the defensive side of the ball. The Washington, D.C., product is primed to play a role in the Nittany Lion secondary when the season kicks off in September. With 27 game appearances under his belt, Smith has made good progress this spring.
Junior Christian Campbell, sophomore Amani Oruwariye and redshirt freshman Garrett Taylor will all be among the group competing for a much bigger role on the defensive backfield in 2016. Campbell has played in 18 games during the last two seasons (missed five due to injury last fall). He made 16 tackles and broke up two passes in 2015. The Alabama native will be among the Lions competing for a starting assignment.
Oruwariye played in all 13 games last fall and was one of 17 redshirt freshman to see action in 2015. The Tampa, Fla., native made five tackles and defended a pass last season. Taylor made good progress on the scout team defense and is eager for an increased role when camp commences in August.
Sophomore Nick Scott, who transitioned into the secondary following the TaxSlayer Bowl will give the Lions another player with game experience in the defensive backfield. Scott has made a smooth transition into a new role for the Nittany Lions this spring.
Junior Kyle Alston, sophomore Desi Davis and redshirt freshman Troy Shorts will provide the cornerback group with increased depth for the 2016 season.
Collectively, the Lion cornerbacks are a talented group looking to have a bigger impact at the line of scrimmage in press coverage and get their hands on more balls. Coach Smith enjoys the group's attention to detail, and the corners are poised to be one of the team's strengths in 2016.
Quoting Coach Smith:
"The corners have a business-like approach to everything. These guys understand where our deficiencies were in the fall and where we need to improve this spring to be a better football team on the back end of the defense. These guys are studying a lot more film. They are working on technique more. Grant Haley is the leader of the room. He is a junior, and he is the elder spokesman of the group. He's the guy that holds it all together. The young guys look to him."
MOST RECENT POSTS
- Seventeen Years Later: Penn State Returns to the Semifinals
- VIDEO: Women's Lacrosse Primed for NCAA Semifinals
- Seniors and Defense Lead Nittany Lions to Final Four
- VIDEO: Women's Lacrosse Gearing Up for NCAA Quarterfinals
- Hello from Hannah: Summer in Florence
- Penn State Field Hockey Holland Trip: Day Nine
- VIDEO: Frank Molinaro Headed to Rio 2016 Olympics
- Penn State Field Hockey Holland Trip: Day Eight
- Penn State Falls in the Big Ten Semifinals to Top-Seeded Michigan
- Add category (6)
- All-Sports Blog (5188)
- Baseball (164)
- Coaches Caravan (51)
- Cross Country (59)
- European Tour 2012 (14)
- Fencing (8)
- Field Hockey (104)
- Football (1537)
- Men's Basketball (560)
- Men's Basketball 2013 European Tour (16)
- Men's Gymnastics (81)
- Men's Hockey (340)
- Men's Lacrosse (163)
- Men's Soccer (107)
- Men's Volleyball (138)
- PSU Road Warriors (16)
- Softball (90)
- Swimming & Diving (100)
- Track & Field (101)
- Women's Basketball (484)
- Women's Gymnastics (109)
- Women's Hockey (150)
- Women's Lacrosse (124)
- Women's Soccer (218)
- Women's Soccer Player Blog (44)
- Women's Volleyball (338)
- Wrestling (386)