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April 20, 2013
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Blue-White game scoring system again added an intriguing dimension to the culmination of spring practice, as the Blue (defense) knocked off the White (offense), 67-47, before an estimated 28,000 fans on a Saturday that featured snow, rain, wind and sunshine in Beaver Stadium.
Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch plunged into the south end zone on the White team's opening drive to put the offense on top by a score of 15-4. However, the defense answered with a big finish to the first quarter and a strong second frame en route to a 47-30 lead at halftime.
The White team pulled within eight points after sophomore Tyler Ferguson found freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson for a 6-yard touchdown connection, which set the score at 47-39. The Blue team led 50-41 after three quarters, but the White squad was not done. Ferguson found true freshman wide out Richy Anderson for a 5-yard score to pull the offense to within 50-47 in the fourth quarter.
From there, the defense rattled off 17-straight tallies on its way to a second-straight victory for the Blue team.
The defensive unit tallied nine sacks (each worth four points), including two apiece from Brad Bars, Austin Johnson and Evan Schwan from Olaniyan, 12 tackles for a loss (each worth two points) and two interceptions (each worth six points). Johnson and linebacker Charles Idemudia paced the defense with five tackles in the victory. The top seven tacklers in the Blue-White Game will all have freshman eligibility in the fall.
On the offensive side of the ball, the White squad tallied 455 yards of total offense and four touchdowns en route to a total of 47 points in the feature scoring system. Sophomore Deron thompson tallied 97 yards (8.1 ypc) on 12 carries to lead the running attack. Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch notched 83 yards and a touchdown in his first action at Beaver Stadium.
At the quarterback spot, sophomores Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson took the bulk of the reps under center. Bench finished with 99 yards on 9-for-15 passing. He connected with a diving Jesse James on a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Ferguson finished 9-for-15 with two touchdown passes and 90 yards. Austin Whipple (2-6) and D.J. Crook (1-4) also took snaps under center. All four quarterbacks made their first appearance in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
"I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I'm sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today."
Sophomore tight end Jesse James led the receiving corps with five receptions for 77 yards and a 27-yard touchdown. Matt Zanellato capped off a strong spring with four catches for 53 yards. Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson, who saw limited playing time, carried the ball 29 yards on a reverse in the first half.
All six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.
"It's a 15th practice and it is very, very important. Believe me, any time you take the field, it's very important," O'Brien said. "There were competitive spots on the line today, position battles and things like that. I don't want to take anything away from that but I want the guys to have fun. This is the best time of their lives. They are going to a great university and they are playing a spring game in front of thousands of fans, in a stadium, in my opinion the best stadium in the country. It is a fantastic atmosphere. I just want these guys to have fun. They deserve to have fun. They worked hard all spring and all winter, so I hope that they had fun today."
Five Nittany Lions were recognized for their efforts during halftime of the game. Rising sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas (New Rochelle, N,Y.) and junior defensive end C.J. Olaniyan (Warren, Mich.) were presented the Jim O'Hora Award. Senior center Ty Howle (Wake Forest, N.C.) earned the Red Worrell Award. The Nittany Lion coaching staff singled out Lucas, Olaniyan and Howle as the defensive and offensive players, respectively, who have best demonstrated exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement during spring practice.
The Worrell Award is presented to the offensive player whose spring contribution is most worthy of special tribute. The prize was first presented in 1958 and is named in the honor of the late Red Worrell, a high school All-American from Centerville HS who was tragically electrocuted in an accident after an exceptional season on the 1957 Nittany Lion freshman team. Past Worrell Award winners include former assistant coach Fran Ganter, Lydell Mitchell, Mickey Shuler,Steve Smith, Kyle Brady, Bryant Johnson, Rodney Kinlaw, Graham Zug and Matt Stankiewitch, the 2012 recipient.
The defensive award is named in honor of Jim O'Hora, a long-time Penn State assistant coach who was a member of the coaching staff for 31 years. Loyalty and attitude especially characterized Jim O'Hora and has typified many of the previous winners, including Walker Lee Ashley, Andre Collins, Michael Haynes, Anthony Adams, Tim Shaw, Michael Mauti and Jordan Hill and Stephon Morris, the 2012 winner. The O'Hora Award was first presented in 1977.
The Frank Patrick Memorial "Total Commitment" Award goes to junior class squad members who consistently follow through with their responsibilities in all facets of the football program and do so in exemplary manner. This includes academic pursuits, off-season preparation, in-season commitment, demeanor and community service. Jeff Hartings, Wally Richardson, Justin Kurpeikis, Bryan Scott, Robbie Gould, Josh Hull and returning first team All-Big Ten guard John Urschel (Williamsville, N.Y.) are among the previous recipients. Patrick was a member of the Lions' coaching staff from 1949-73.
Coach O'Brien's message to the team after the game highlighted the group's progress during the five-week spring practice season. From start to finish, the Nittany Lions improved with each passing day, and they will head into the summer looking to take another step forward.
The foundation is in place for the start of training camp. Coach O'Brien would be the first to tell you that there is a long way to go between now and the Aug. 31 season-opener against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, but the Nittany Lions will move into the summer season following a good spring.
The Blue team topped the White squad on Saturday, and the work for Coach O'Brien and the Nittany Lions is just beginning, but there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the Nittany Lion football program as the calendar inches toward the 2013 season.
"I'm very pleased with Blue and White weekend and I think the fans were fantastic," O'Brien said. "It looked like a blizzard out there for a second. I was shocked and then the sun came out and it was 70 degrees; felt like I was on Cape Cod. We have great fans and the student body is fantastic. It was fun."
Penn State fans got a taste of the 2013 Nittany Lions on Saturday. The countdown to the season-opener is 133 days.
Penn State returns 16 starters and 38 letterwinners for the upcoming season. O'Brien earned national and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Nittany Lions to wins in eight of their final 10 games last year, earning an 8-4 overall (6-2 Big Ten) record.
Season tickets are available for the 2013 campaign. The Nittany Lions will host five bowl teams from 2012, including three teams that finished in the BCS Top 25: Michigan (Oct. 12-Homecoming), Nebraska (Nov. 23) and Kent State (Sept. 21). Purdue, Illinois, UCF and Eastern Michigan also will visit Beaver Stadium this fall. Penn State opens the season Aug. 31 vs. Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, fans can visit www.GoPSUsports.com or call 1-800-NITTANY weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.