Three things to watch for in Penn State's spring game
When: 2 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
-Joe Moorhead’s new offense
I thought David Jones of pennlive.com wrote it best. “Simplicity with replace complexity under new coordinator Joe Moorhead.” That means a lot of first-read, get-the-ball-out-of-the-quarterback’s-hands throws will be made. That also means a lot of inside-zone running with Saquon Barkley, who many consider one of the top five running backs in the country entering his sophomore season.
Even though it’s just a spring game, we should still see the style that Penn State will rely on in 2016. Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens will get more opportunities to show off their mobility playing at a faster pace than Lions fans are used to seeing. Lost in the shuffle of Penn State’s new offense is the fact that whoever gets the start at quarterback — McSorley is leading that race so far — still has two talented receivers to work with in Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton.
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It won’t look like a finish product, but Saturday should serve as a good early indicator for how the Lions’ dynamic skill players will be used by Moorhead.
-Offensive line play
That all, of course, will only happen if Penn State can block. Moorhead’s system will put less pressure on the Lions to hold blocks, and both Stevens and McSorley are more mobile than Hackenberg. New offensive line coach Matt Limegrover knows the challenge he’s up against after watching the way the Lions were beat up front the last two years.
As always, the parts are still shifting. Penn State’s anchor Brian Gaia moved from guard to center. Andrew Nelson should bring some stability at one of the tackle positions, but it isn’t certain which one. Fellow tackle Paris Palmer didn’t live up to expectations last year and he’ll have a lot of eyes on him Saturday. At guard, redshirt freshman Ryan Bates could be working with the first team after an impressive spring and early enrollee Connor McGovern could carve out a role, too. Penn State fans won’t get to see highly touted tackle Michal Menet in action yet, but he’ll be in the mix for a starting job when he gets to State College this summer.
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This unit knows it can’t use depth or inexperience as an excuse, not that it ever did publicly. Keeping McSorley and Stevens upright would give PSU fans as much hope as anything that can be accomplished on Saturday.
-Drastically different defensive line
Besides the quarterback position, the defensive line will see the biggest shakeup. It’ll be strange not seeing Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson solidify the tackle spots, and Penn State got accustomed to Carl Nassib punishing quarterbacks in 2015.
Outside of lone returning starter Garrett Sickels, there will be plenty of spots up for grabs. Antoine White, Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren could win the battle for the tackle positions, and Torrence Brown and Evan Schwan will compete for the other end job. We’ll also get to see redshirt freshman DT Kevin Givens, who has been one of the stars out of PSU’s spring camp.
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This unit will likely still look like a work-in-progress. Replacing 45.5 tackles for loss won’t be easy, especially when none of the replacement candidates started a game in 2015. At the very least, Saturday’s scrimmage certainly won’t lack competition.