Penn State Football

Penn State football: Nittany Lions employ do-over in practice of lowlight from 2014 season

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg makes a call at the line during Saturday’s practice.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg makes a call at the line during Saturday’s practice. CDT photo

Penn State recreated one of its losses from the 2014 season during spring practice Saturday.

The Nittany Lion offense lined up at the exact yard line, with the same amount of timeouts and played out the end of its 16-14 setback to Illinois last November. In that game, the unit failed to pick up a first down and burn enough clock to hold onto its one-point lead at Memorial Stadium.

The offense was aiming to end the game as it worked on four-minute situations at Holuba Hall. The defense’s objective was to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense.

This time, the offense executed.

“We want to learn from some of the mistakes we did last year,” Penn State coach James Franklin said after practice. “And the offense was able to line up in four-minute offense and play pretty good and be able to win both of those situations in terms of eating up the clock.”

Franklin credited the blocking of the offensive line and tight ends along with the running backs for the success in that situation at practice. The coach addressed each of those position groups and their progress after practicing in full pads.

He said he wants to see the offensive line solidified as soon as possible. He mentioned Albert Hall, Paris Palmer, Chance Sorrell and Sterling Jenkins as potential replacements for left tackle Donovan Smith before the team started spring practice.

Franklin said the staff is pushing Palmer and Sorrell right now.

“Albert’s still doing some nice things,” Franklin said, “but we feel like we need to force feed those two guys and get them as many reps as possible.”

He’s taking the same approach to develop his tight ends into effective blockers, saying they have to be physical and there’s no easing into it anymore. And he likes how his running backs look so far, specifically mentioning redshirt junior Akeel Lynch, redshirt freshmen Nick Scott and Mark Allen.

“What I like is we’re being a lot more definitive,” Franklin said. “There’s less hesitation, we’re getting downhill, we’re keeping our shoulders square and we’re just so much stronger and more explosive than we were last year. I’ve been pleased. I’ve been pleased with that group. We still got a long ways to go, but Akeel’s looking like the workhorse that we think he can be.”

Lynch led the team in rushing last season, finishing with 678 yards on 147 carries, but the Nittany Lions lose Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak to graduation.

Lynch ran for a career-high 137 yards in the loss to Illinois, the game Franklin revisited Saturday.

Penn State took possession with a one-point lead and 3:29 left in the game, but the offense went three-and-out and gave the ball back to Illinois with 1:48 left. Illinois kicker David Reisner hit a 36-yard field goal with eight seconds left to lift his team to the win.

Franklin said the Nittany Lions also could take situations from the Super Bowl, AFC championship game or Big Ten championship game.

It adds value compared to creating a generic situation for practice.

“I think whenever you can point back to a specific example, it carries more weight,” Franklin said, referring to the Illinois loss, “especially when it was a situation we weren’t successful with.”

Franklin identified four-minute situations and two-minute situations as areas of focus for the offense and defense, respectively.

He said the staff considers every situation when mapping out spring practice, then tries to focus that plan.

“You rep the heck out of goal line and then maybe you run it nine times during the year,” Franklin said. “So you got to just make sure that the things you’re doing in practice make sense for the game, so we want to make sure we get all the situations covered.

“And we make sure we’re spending the right amount of time on it as well based on how many times are you really going to run those things during the game and not just based off this year, based off the last five years studying the game.”

Breneman, Kline limited

Franklin said tight end Adam Breneman and linebacker Ben Kline are still limited.

Breneman missed the 2014 season with a knee injury, and Kline missed last year after tearing his Achilles tendon in the summer.

“I’ll be able to answer that better a little bit probably in camp,” Franklin said. “Kline has been out for a long time, Breneman’s been out for a long time so to think they’re going to come in from the first day of spring ball and be full go and see no residual effects from it, that’s not gonna happen.”

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