Veteran left tackle Andrew Nelson called it “a fresh start.”
Head coach James Franklin called it “a beautiful marriage at the right time.”
Led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley, Penn State football’s new no-huddle, uptempo spread offense under coordinator Joe Moorhead unfolded in front of fans for the first time on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Behind McSorley’s four touchdowns and 281 passing yards (he went 23 for 27 and only had one incompletion in the first half — an interception by Amani Oruwariye), the calling cards of Moorhead’s attack caused a bit of a buzz among fans thirsty for football after a long winter drought.
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There’s definitely a feeling of a fresh start. I think a lot of guys feel that, especially on the offense as a whole. And Coach Moorhead’s done a great job with that, saying ‘Listen, forget about that past. We’re moving forward, this is our goal, this is our vision, this is the direction we’re moving.’ And the guys have really adopted that well.
Left tackle Andrew Nelson
“Overall the offense moved the ball well,” McSorley said after the game. “I mean, I couldn’t be happier, we put touchdowns on the board. We had one drive that didn’t end in a touchdown, so that’s real good.”
The Blue Team, composed of apparent first-teamers, trounced the White Team 37-0, amassing 411 yards of offense, 22 first downs and a perfect 6 of 6 third-down conversions in the process. McSorley also connected with eight different receivers.
Not a bad taste of the style in which Penn State plans to play — especially after two years spent swirling the FBS drain in third down conversions, scoring offense and yardage.
“There’s definitely a feeling of a fresh start,” said Nelson. “I think a lot of guys feel that, especially on the offense as a whole. And Coach Moorhead’s done a great job with that, saying ‘Listen, forget about that past. We’re moving forward, this is our goal, this is our vision, this is the direction we’re moving.’ And the guys have really adopted that well.”
Players have talked all spring about how “fun” the uptempo scheme is, but what really mattered to Franklin and Moorhead was the first team’s execution in a game situation, especially as the team was handed a large amount of information in a small amount of time.
“I’m very pleased with what we were able to get done (this spring),” said Franklin. “Ninety-five percent of the offense we were able to get (installed). There are things that we are going to go back and study, we’re going to go back and study the tapes and (find out) what is going to be our bread and butter, what is going to be our identity, who we are moving forward, what areas we need to improve on.”
The remaining five percent involves naming a starting quarterback. Franklin told reporters on Saturday afternoon that despite McSorley’s slick, confident performance, the staff won’t make that decision until the fall.
“I just think that Trace McSorley was the backup quarterback all year last year and was preparing to go in the game,” said Franklin. “Tommy (Stevens) was redshirting. I think Tommy has got a lot of ability and is going to be in this battle until the very end. I don’t think it’s fair to our football team and to Tommy right now to name a starter when I really think Tommy can close the gap between now and (fall).”
Stevens was 7 for 14 with 48 yards, and took four “sacks” (adjusted to a two-hand touch for the game).
Meanwhile, for the 65,000 fans in attendance, McSorley all but dazzled in the April sunshine.
The quarterback was a perfect 5 for 5 on a seven-play opening drive that was capped by a 15-yard pass to receiver Chris Godwin, who shook off his coverage and rumbled into the end zone.
We moved the ball well, ran it well and threw it well and were able to get the ball into the end zone. And anytime you’re able to do that on the first drive…It’s a jolt of energy and excitement.
Quarterback Trace McSorley
“It was great to see him catch that ball and get into the end zone,” said McSorley. “I mean, it was definitely huge, you know, first drive. … We moved the ball well, ran it well and threw it well and were able to get the ball into the end zone. And anytime you’re able to do that on the first drive … it’s a jolt of energy and excitement.”
Defensive end Evan Schwan sacked White Team quarterback Stevens on third-and-long, pushing him back into the end zone for a safety to tack on two more points for the Blue Team.
McSorley then connected a 22-yard floater to receiver Saeed Blacknall, who spun around Oruwariye to turn a contested catch into a clean touchdown grab in the far corner of the end zone.
“I don’t know what it is about that corner,” Blacknall grinned after the game, reminiscing about similar catches made there last season. “They called the play and it was a double-move and I just kind of adjusted to it.”
Blue’s defense forced a three-and-out on a sack by defensive end Garrett Sickels on White’s next series.
Blue scored again after McSorley flip-passed to tight end Tom Pancoast for a two-yard touchdown.
DeAndre Thompkins caught a pass over the seam from McSorley and took it 35 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter.
Stevens took over the first-team offense with 10 minutes to play in the game, and handed off to Andre Robinson for the 28-yard touchdown to punctuate the walloping and the end of spring ball.
And a successful one, at that.
“I think from a ground-zero perspective of having zero knowledge of the offense, you know, moving forward through 15 practices, I think (the team) made incremental steps every day,” said Moorhead after the game. “I think it really was good to see them come out in front of a big crowd and a game-day atmosphere and really see them execute.”
Notes: Backup Billy Fessler quarterbacked the White team for the last five minutes of the game as Stevens continued to take first-team reps on the Blue side…Running back Saquon Barkley stood on the sideline throughout as Mark Allen took first-team reps…Franklin said the team “knows what Barkley can do,” and the move was made with the protected health of the rising sophomore in mind, as well as a desire to watch the other backs perform…Defensive tackle Kevin Givens led the team with six total tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss and two sacks…Early enrollee quarterback Jake Zembiec was inactive, as were linebackers Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell, offensive linemen Brendan Mahon, Chasz Wright and Brendan Brosnan, running back Johnathan Thomas, defensive linemen Ryan Buchholz, Kam Carter and Parker Cothren, defensive backs John Petrishen, Ayron Monroe and Jarvis Miller, safety Troy Apke, receiver Irvin Charles and kicker Joey Julius.