What role does Penn State’s annual Blue-White game serve?
Well, it depends who you ask.
For thousands in the tailgating lots, it’s about reconnecting over some grilled meats, beverages and cornhole.
For those planted in the Beaver Stadium seats, or typing away in the press box, it’s about getting a glimpse of players and formations you don’t normally get to see until the fall.
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But for players, it’s more than just a casual Saturday in the sun.
It’s another opportunity to prove their worth.
With a running clock, limited playbook and kickoffs without kickoff return teams, was Saturday anything more than a glorified practice?
No, not really.
But don’t tell that to those on the field.
Take running back Mark Allen, for example.
Allen, a redshirt sophomore, appeared in eight games last season and finished with 110 rushing yards, fifth-most on the team.
On Saturday, Allen came out lined up next to quarterback Trace McSorley with the first-team offense.
Of course, there were a couple running backs whose presences loomed larger.
Sophomore starlet Saquon Barkley, coming off a record-breaking, jaw-dropping freshman campaign, was the reason why a line wrapped around Curtin Road for a morning autograph session outside Beaver Stadium.
Barkley was suited up for the game but didn’t take any snaps.
“We just kind of felt like we know what we have in Saquon,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said.
Allen had a decision to make.
“Like (running backs) coach (Charles) Huff says, you can approach either one of two ways,” Allen said, “It’s either, ‘Oh, why is he not playing?’ Or, ‘Hey, this is my opportunity to show the fans what I can do.’
“That’s the way I approached it.”
Barkley aside, there was also Miles Sanders — a five-star prospect and incoming freshman who made a pregame appearance to thunderous applause along with the rest of the 2016 recruiting class.
But after the limelight went to Barkley and Sanders before the first snap, Allen captured the crowd’s eye.
Allen was effective, totaling 78 all-purpose yards (49 rushing yards on eight carries and 29 receiving yards on three receptions) and contributing six first downs.
Using his speed in space and incisive lateral movement, Allen took full advantage of the chance he had, generating some “oohs” and “ahhs” along the way.
“I did what I had to do,” Allen said. “Hopefully I surprised some fans.”
Allen wasn’t alone in impressing out of the backfield.
Redshirt freshman Andre Robinson had three carries for 43 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run.
Franklin was pleased with his running backs, and a handful of other players — like linebackers Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper — who received more action than normal because of injury or circumstance.
“I told (the team) at halftime, we’re evaluating fundamentals and technique, scheme, alignment and assignment, obviously,” Franklin said. “But we’re also evaluating mental and physical toughness right now. You’re getting a bunch more reps than you’d typically get in a game, and we want to see how you play when you get tired. It’s going to be a great evaluator for us.”
Allen, who was all smiles in the press room after the game, should do well in those evaluations — after a nifty showing, he feels like he made an impression on Saturday.
And sure, Allen knows, as well as all the Nittany Lions, that a flashy Blue-White game isn’t the end game.
But it’s what the fans came to see — and it certainly can’t hurt in the never-ending struggle for snaps.