How did he defending B1G champs look in their spring game?
Here were some things that stood out.
1. Deep-ball threat is still work in progress
The big question this offseason is who will step up as Penn State’s deep threat and fill the Chris Godwin role. It was obvious that Penn State was still figuring that out on Saturday.
Trace McSorley took several shots deep, and not with the same results he had last year. His first two deep balls probably should’ve been intercepted and on his third one, he hit DeAndre Thompkins in stride, but not before he stepped out of bounds (he made a nice deep catch later with Tommy Stevens). After getting all the spring hype, Juwan Johnson looked solid, though he wasn’t on the same page as McSorley on deep balls.
Nobody expected McSorley to be in Rose Bowl form in the spring game. It’s obvious that it’ll take a while for the Lions to establish the next home-run threat. For what it’s worth, he was also without Saeed Blacknall on Saturday.
Penn State elected to leave McSorley in for an entire half, which is rare for a starting QB of his caliber in a spring game. To me, that says that they’re still looking to develop that connection.
In due time, Joe Moorhead will have the right buttons pushed to get the Lions’ big plays clicking.
2. Jonathan Holland can take pressure off Mike Gesicki
Speaking of Moorhead, he’s going to have to find ways to get his tight end involved. No, I’m not talking about Gesicki. The potential preseason All-American didn’t play on Saturday.
Instead, we got to see Holland emerge. He made several nice grabs and became a reliable underneath target for McSorley. At 6-4, 245 pounds, Holland showed some impressive ability to make people miss in the open field with his strength.
Holland is still making the transition to tight end from defensive end, so the route-running will be a work in progress. He could still be used more on running plays to spell Gesicki, which is something Penn State needs.
But if he continues to develop as a pass-catching threat, he could force Moorhead to use him out of some double-tight end sets when all eyes will be on Gesicki.
3. T.J. Johnson wants all of John Reid’s snaps
The loss of John Reid was huge. Having a multi-year starter and All-B1G caliber corner go down obviously hurt. But fortunately for Penn State, there’s plenty of depth at cornerback.
T.J. Johnson looked like he was trying to take Reid’s spot on Saturday.
He was arguably the defensive MVP of the spring game, with several big-time plays. The redshirt freshman made an interception on a halfback pass, and he actually jumped in front of a teammate to make the play. Johnson also made some nice open-field tackles, including a tackle for loss on a Holland catch that prevented a touchdown.
Grant Haley and Christian Campbell are expected to anchor the starting positions. Veterans Desi Davis and Amani Oruwariye will compete for playing time, as will highly-touted true freshman Lamont Wade. Still, Johnson’s stock is certainly up after his all-around effort on Saturday.
4. Tommy Stevens is more than capable
Last year, Stevens was overshadowed by McSorley’s brilliant spring game performance. Stevens didn’t win the starting job, but he obviously hasn’t stopped developing.
He looked calm, cool and collected on Saturday. A year of playing in Moorhead’s offense certainly did him well.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 22, 2017
He made the intermediate throws and he threw a nice deep ball, including a 31-yard touchdown to Brandon Polk (an even better catch than throw). Stevens actually moved the ball significantly better than McSorley.
Don’t get it twisted. McSorley’s job certainly isn’t in jeopardy. But Penn State has such sky-high expectations this year. It can’t afford to have them derailed because of an injury to McSorley. Stevens looked plenty capable of stepping in and taking over if — only if — McSorley were to go down.
5. There was a lack of touchdowns, but don’t worry
There’s always two sides to the coin. If there are touchdowns left and right in a spring game, there are concerns about the defense. If there aren’t many touchdowns to speak of, the concerns are with the offense.
But even though points were few and far between, there shouldn’t be any concerns about Penn State’s high-powered offense. No Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders or Gesicki meant that Penn State’s offense was going to be limited on Saturday. And Moorhead obviously didn’t run the same offense he would against Michigan.
Saturday shouldn’t have deterred any of the excitement surrounding this team. Surely the 71,000 fans — an incredible number for a spring game — that showed up would’ve liked to have seen more scores early on, but take it for what it was.
Barkley, McSorley, Gesicki and the rest of that potent offense made it through Saturday healthy. There’s your victory.