Trace McSorley and Penn State's sick new up-tempo offense dominate Blue-White game

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

Hey, guys. Here’s my gamer from the Blue-White game so ya’ll won’t have to wait until tomorrow’s paper to read it. I’ll have a Kevin Givens story for Monday’s paper as well, so look out for that. Hope y’all enjoyed this spring!

UNIVERSITY PARK — The winner of Penn State’s rather one-sided Blue-White game was obvious: Trace McSorley, leading the team’s new offense.

If the 37-0 winning score line for McSorley’s Blue team Saturday at Beaver Stadium wasn’t enough of an indication, White squad defensive tackle Robert Windsor threw up on the 1-yard line in the second quarter while trying to keep up with the up-tempo attack.

That wasn’t even the first time the redshirt freshman had tossed his cookies this spring — coach James Franklin relayed a similar story just days into spring practice. And for McSorley and the offense, those moments make the system overhaul completely worth it.

“It’s huge for us, knowing that we can do that to a defense just from our tempo and guys up front,” McSorley said. “Not only is it a big boost for the offense, but for our offensive line, it’s so much easier for them to block a dude that’s tired and gassed than it is for a guy that’s energized and juiced up every play.

“They see that, everyone kind of turns around and, like, high fives each other, slaps each other,” McSorley said. “It’s kind of, like, in our mind, ‘Now we’ve got them. Now we have the upper hand.’ And that’s what we want to do with this tempo.”

As soon as McSorley grabbed the ball, the Blue team’s no-huddle spread offense took off running. The first drive went 70 yards in seven plays in 2 minutes, 53 seconds. McSorley threw 15 yards to junior wide receiver Chris Godwin with 7:33 left in the first quarter for the score.

Even with the Blue team’s second drive ending in an interception, courtesy of redshirt sophomore cornerback Amani Oruwariye at the White team’s 14-yard line, five of the Blue team’s eight drives ended in touchdowns – two others ended with the halves. And the White team’s drive after the interception actually scored the Blue team two points when fifth-year senior defensive end Evan Schwan tagged redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Stevens for a safety with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

Franklin said despite McSorley’s miscue in the red zone, he thought the quarterback looked poised, confident and under control.

“One of the things I tried to talk to him about is when you get in that fringe area, you’ve got to be careful. Those defensive backs are going to sit on routes because you just run out of real estate,” Franklin said. “So we had a go route with a corner in front of it, the DB kind of sat between the two. And in those areas, you’ve got to be aggressive with the ball down the field or take the check down when the DB sits in the grey area. But I thought [McSorley] did some really nice things.”

McSorley finished the game 23-of-27 for 281 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He threw a 22-yarder to junior wide receiver Saeed Blacknall and a two-yard toss to redshirt junior tight end Tom Pancoast for scores in the second quarter. He added a 35-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, who switched over from the White team at halftime, for his final score in the third quarter.

The Blue team’s last score of the game was also it’s only rushing touchdown, a 28-yard run from redshirt freshman running back Andre Robinson, who also switched from the White team, in the fourth quarter.

Stevens was the quarterback for the Blue team for that touchdown, playing the final 10 minutes with the mostly first team. He went 7-of-14 for 48 yards with the White team and was sacked four times. With the Blue team, he went 3-of-3 for 52 yards.

“The next step for him is that he has so much confidence in his athletic ability and his ability to break the pocket and make plays, that he needs to be careful in certain situations,” Franklin said of Stevens, who is trying to close the gap from McSorley for the starting job. “When you’re backed up, it’s not worth the risk of scrambling. When it’s two minutes, it’s not worth it. There are times and places to use that athletic ability, and there’s times when you just have to understand – throw the ball away, and let’s live to play another down.”

Other note: Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, last season’s leading rusher, did not play. Franklin said he already knows what Barkley has to offer and didn’t want to risk him in a live situation.

Megan Ryan:, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.

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Unlucky Leader gives her offensive line prediction and other Penn State notes

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

I have no fancy rap references for you today. I’m sorry to disappoint.

Read my breaking news story on the offensive line here from today’s Big Ten conference calls. My guess for the spring game lineup? Nelson-Bates-Gaia-Dowrey-Beh. Take that for what you will.

At defensive tackle, a rebuilding area, Franklin said he fancied redshirt junior Parker Cothren and redshirt freshman Robert Windsor at the one technique or nose, adding Windsor is explosive, strong and young. Franklin said redshirt sophomore Antoine White could be a good pick at  the three technique, as could redshirt junior Curtis Cothran. Incoming junior college guys like Tyrell Chavis will also bring some needed maturity at that spot, Franklin said.


In his conference call, redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Sickels, the only returning starter on the D-line after all his compatriots departed for the NFL, said it’s been a change to go from the youngest on the line to the leader.

“The good thing about it is that everyone that we have back, we’re all pretty close, and we’re all in the same grade, really,” Sickels said. “We all have a really tight camaraderie, and we all know what’s expected of us.”

Sickels added that White is quick and shifty, poised to show his stuff now that Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel are NFL bound. And on possibly lining up with redshirt sophomore defensive end Torrence Brown, Sickels said Brown “is a guy that doesn’t make any mistakes,” and has experience as well.

Back to Franklin, he said of the rising recruiting expenses that Penn State is a bit isolated and thus it costs a bit more to travel to and from campus. He said the school just wants to do everything it can to attract the best fits for the program, adding, “To be honest with you, the way things are documented now are a little bit different than the way they’ve been in the past. We’re much more detailed in keeping track of those financials. So I think it’s probably a little bit more specific. I think Penn State has realized, as well as our football program and [that has] studied other programs in the Big Ten as well as nationally, the things you need to do to be successful.”

Spinning off the isolated Penn State thing, satellite camps! Franklin commented on the death of them after practice Wednesday, saying, “From the beginning, if the rule was going to be legal in the Big Ten ... I felt like we needed to do everything in our power within the rules to give Penn State the best chance to be successful.

“The rule now is not legal. So now everybody’s back on a level playing field. So I’m OK either way.”

Franklin said on the positive side, he’s happy to spend more time on campus with his players and his family. But on the other hand, he’s certainly happy to have signed the incoming kicker and punter out of a Georgia satellite camp.

And on if the Big Ten East would be more balanced with high turnover at places like Ohio State and Michigan State, Franklin said, “I don’t think there’ll be a significant drop off. I think this will continue to be one of the more competitive conferences in college football, specifically the east side of the conference.”

I think that’s all I’ve got for y’all now. I’ll have a spring game preview in Saturday’s paper, as well as stories Sunday and Monday from the spring game. So hold on to yer britches. Email. Tweet. Find your Wu-Tang name. I’m Unlucky Leader ;)

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I call Penn State's Von Walker, Brian Gaia, Saeed Blacknall and Nick Scott on my cell phone

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing — the Penn State teleconferences goin’ up on a Tuesday.

Sorry I just mixed two Drake references to start of this blog post. 

No, I’m not.

Anyhow, space in the paper tomorrow is tight, so here is your ramblin’ roundup of today’s conference calls with linebacker Von Walker, center Brian Gaia, wide receiver Saeed Blacknall and defensive back Nick Scott.

Walker said he’s expecting big strides from special teams this year, after under-performance, to say the least, last year.

“We’ve improved every year since this coaching staff has got here, and I think this year is going to be the year that we’re really going to take off,” Walker said. “I mean, this year we spent more time on special teams than any other year I’ve been here.”

Special teams has worked different drills in practice including more man-on-man, live situations and hold ups. Walker said bringing that in-game atmosphere to practice has upped the speed and intensity. He also added special teams coach Charles Huff’s passion and pride has rubbed off on the players, making them play faster, smarter and stronger.

Scott chimed in on the special teams situation as well, saying with his second year in the system, he feels more comfortable and like more players have accepted the importance of special teams’ play.

“I definitely think this is the year, for sure,” Scott said. “You look back at some of the games that we’ve had, you can see how important it is because some of the plays we made or we didn’t make may or may not have cost us the game. For example, Northwestern. If we didn’t give up that kickoff return for a touchdown, then that’s our game.”

Scott made the transfer in the offseason from running back to defensive back after former defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had been in his ear for awhile saying Scott could be a great safety at the collegiate level. After this past season, he had a conversation with coach James Franklin about his interest in contributing more to other areas of the team.

Scott played the first seven spring practices as a corner before shifting to strong safety. He said he played safety in high school, and the position suits his personality better — Huff, also the running backs coach, nicknamed Scott ”Spaz” for his erratic movement and decision-making on the field.

“It’s less rules and regulations and reads,” Scott said of safety. “And it’s more see quarterback, see ball, get ball type of deal.”

Walker agreed with Scott’s personal assessment of his ”sporadic” playing style.


“On the field, he’s an animal. He’s a wild dude. I mean, he makes plays all over the place. He’s almost three people at once,” Walker said. “He might not admit it ... but he’s one of the locker room clowns. I mean, that guy, he’s had me in tears sometimes laughing. He’s absolutely hilarious.”

Scott’s been able to maintain that ”goofy” personality when it comes to his old running back buddies Mark Allen and Saquon Barkley. He and Allen are still talking smack about if Scott pushed Allen out of bounds before he could score last weekend.

“We’re still friends,” Scott said, “for the most part.”

Switching gears to another position switch, former guard Gaia has practiced exclusively at center this spring, saying the transition has been easy with a center-friendly offense — as in the fast tempo helps tire out defensive lines, and the center calls the blocking and can decide if he wants to block someone alone or not.

Franklin discussed the change with Gaia at the end-of-season meeting, giving Gaia all winter to work on his snapping. Gaia said he likes playing center despite not having experience with it and was happy to go where the team needed him.

“I’m kind of in control of how we block up front and stuff like that, so I like putting everyone on the same page,” Gaia said. “I would say last year communication was one of my stronger suits, so just being center allows me to have more control.

“Now I can pretty much tell people what to do,” he said.

Wouldn’t we all like a bit of that power? (I asked him about the QBs, too, but that’ll be in my story for Thursday once Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens meet with the media after spring practice Wednesday.)

For Blacknall, he said he felt like all the receivers received (lmao) a fresh start this spring as everyone was on a level playing field learning the new offense. And while he’s poised to have a breakout season, he’s not letting on about the high expectations filling his thoughts. Instead, he said he is just ready to seize whatever opportunity comes his way.

Blacknall did say the receivers had a bit of a ”careful what you wish for” moment during the first few padded practices, as running through six plays in three minutes was exhausting. They had wanted a spread, no-huddle offense where they could use all their weapons all at once, but it took a few practices to get used to the pace.

Some random things that didn’t fit into this weird story/blog hybrid I’ve got going on:

  • Scott said he’s pretty good at basketball and fancies himself a decent singer and dancer. But only when he’s listening to Chris Brown. And he always has the volume turned up way loud so he can’t hear himself. So, I say he post a video or something, and we can be the judges.
  • Blacknall said the receivers watched a lot of Fordham (where new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was head coach before Penn State) tape to study the new offense, and that the players have iPads so they can watch it on the go. Blacknall also said he has an app on his phone where he can watch tape, too. Technology, man, it’s a wonder.
  • Who saw my tweet rant about Saquon hitting the quan? Because there was a brief moment in this video where Jarvis Miller hitteth the quan, but I just need Hit the (Sa)Qu(o)n to be a thing, OK?

All right, I think I should wrap this thing up, yeah? As always, email or tweet if you want to chat. (P.S. who saw this video of Anthony Mackie saying my name? Papa Doc from 8 Mile, what a ledge.)

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Saquon Barkley's freshman season highlights and other Penn State haps

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

All right, my blog postings have been sporadic, to put it mildly, and that’s on me. Been a crazy few weeks, but I promise Imma start updating y’all more frequently with my extra Penn State nuggets and anything else I find interesting.

First, some extra ramblings from Saquon Barkley’s first media scrum (read my story first):

  • While he said there was never a point last season when he felt he had become “the guy” for Penn State, he said the Buffalo game was the moment he felt like he could truly compete at the elite Division I level. Didn’t take him long, as that was just the second game of the season where Penn State won 27-14 and Barkley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts. His first score, aw.
  • He said his hardest game was against Maryland, a narrow 31-30 win for Penn State. It was his first start, and he fumbled twice, running for only 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Barkley said Maryland did a good job of stopping the run, and it was the first time he had to be patient with himself and try to be calm in a tense situation.
  • His favorite memory of his freshman season was coming out of the tunnel for the Rutgers game because it reminded him of when he was a recruit watching the White Out game from the stands and hoping he could one day be a Nittany Lion. Cue more awwwws.
  • And on the infamous Anthony Zettel roundhouse kick of the water bottle that almost took him out, Barkley said, “If I hadn’t moved fast enough, I might not have even had a freshman season.” lmao
  • My personal #hottake: seems like a nice kid. Also, Marcus Allen came behind him and shoved his head while he was talking in front of all the media, and Barkley was like, “REALLY?”

As far as James Franklin, he didn’t say much yesterday. He said the defense had it’s best day and is playing with more “personality,” with the linebackers and secondary disguising the pressures and not being as predictable. He lamented the colder weather (as a Minnesotan, I grow stronger every time someone complains about ”cold” weather in April). 

Andrew Nelson was at left tackle when Paris Palmer missed last practice, and the coaches liked what they saw. So they’re running with that switch for now. Noah Beh, Sterling Jenkins and Connor McGovern are all getting looks at tackle, too.

Also, before I forget, Matt Millen will be an analyst for the Big Ten Network for next Saturday’s 2 p.m. Blue-White game. For those of you who can’t make it to Beaver Stadium, it’ll be on tape delay on BTN at 7 p.m. or live on BTN2GO. There’s about a thousand replays, too, so check the schedule. The former Penn State defensive tackle is a four-time Super Bowl champ and joined the BTN broadcast team last year.

I’m sure you all have heard about the “No Talent Required” graphic debacle from last week. Franklin tweeted and deleted but not before people could raise an eyebrow at the essential ????-ness of the catchphrase. By my count, three journalists got the block from the coach on Twitter for pointing it out. He doesn’t even follow me, so I live to tweet another day.

I think that’s it for now. Feel free to reach out to my on Twitter or email if you have questions/concerns/conspiracy theories. Only a month until Captain America: Civil War is in theaters, my guys. Hope you’re all counting down.

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Extra "nuggets" from James Franklin's press conference previewing spring football

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 months ago

Hello, I have some quick things that didn’t make my story from coach James Franklin’s presser today. He referred to them as nuggets, which I appreciated. So here they are:

  • Redshirt senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White will be limited in spring practice after he endured a season-ending leg injury on the season opener last season. In his absence, junior Jason Cabinda has taken up the Mike linebacker reins and doesn’t want to give that up, obviously. So it’ll be a battle once Wartman-White is back to full health. Franklin said Wartman-White also shared with the team how the injury has made him a better person because he came into last season with the wrong mentality.
  • Redshirt sophomore Nick Scott came to Franklin with the idea to move from running back to defensive back. Apparently he had been recruited as a DB but wasn’t interested. But now with the rise of Saquon Barkley, he thought this would be a good move for him. Scott’s been taking a lot of initiative to learn the corner position. Franklin said Scott will continue to play his role on special teams while also fighting for this corner position. “I know I was kind of impressed in the morning work outs just watching them, the first couple days, I thought he would actually look a little bit more uncomfortable than he did,” Franklin said. “He looked pretty comfortable the first day out there, and that got us excited.”
  • In other running back news, redshirt freshman Andre Robinson is working on becoming a “more complete” RB. “Rather than just depending on being bigger and faster than everybody in high school,” Franklin said. “He’s done a great job of that. His weight is down. His body fat is down. He’s a really strong guy in the weight room and on the football field. And opened a lot of eyes. Opened a lot of eyes on scout team. He may have the most natural hands out of any of the running backs we have.” Don’t say that Barkley, lmao.
  • Franklin has several position battles he’s looking forward to with spring ball. Senior tackle Paris Palmer he called a different guy, physically and confidence-wise, and redshirt junior tackle Andrew Nelson had been impressive in work outs and nutrition. So both of those guys along with the younger dudes will make for an interesting O-line competition this spring. At wide receiver, it’s redshirt freshmen Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson, who Franklin said the coaching staff went back and forth on whether to redshirt. “They are going to create competition for starting jobs and also for two-deep,” Franklin said.
  • Franklin is putting a huge emphasis on special teams this spring. Scheme adjustments as well as more personnel will help, as will the good and bad experiences learned this past season. “We actually improved in the return game, but gave up way too many plays in our coverage, and I think that was a number of factors,” Franklin said. “We’re going to have a more competitive two-deep this year, which I think is going to help there probably as much as anywhere. I think our kicking, the consistency in our kicking, is going to be really important. The height of our kicks, the hang time of our kicks, the kick location, the depth.”
  • And to cap it off, Franklin said managing expectations around the team is still one of his main challenges, but he, the team and the community are ready to band together and start meeting those lofty standards. “As fans and as coaches and as players, it doesn’t always happen at the rate we want it to happen,” Franklin said. “And again, at a place like Penn State with the history and the traditions and everything we’ve been through, I think that’s part of it. I think everything that we’ve been through over the last five years, everybody’s ready to get back. And I get that, and I appreciate that, and I respect that, and our players do and our coaches do, as well.”

That’s all I got for now. WiFi drama prevented me from uploading the video of his opening statement, but I will endeavor to add that later. Hit me up with questions or concerns, or to unfollow me after I tweeted the new Captain America: Civil War trailer, like one new-now-former follower already did. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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