After a surprisingly strong 8-4 season in 2012, Penn State fans are excited to see what the Nittany Lions can accomplish during the second year of the Bill O'Brien era. If Saturday's Blue-White Game was any indication, the future is very bright.
Penn State's spring game is quite different from others as the blue team was represented by the defense for the entire contest, while the white team was always on offense. Also, O'Brien instituted a complicated scoring system that awarded points for turnovers, sacks, big plays, consecutive first downs and several other things.
In the end, defense ruled the day as the blue team beat the white team by a score of 67-47. Since it is generally easier for the defense to score under O'Brien's system, the final score isn't as important as the eye test.
There were plenty of players who stood out and made the case for increased playing time in 2013.
Things got started in the surprisingly-tough conditions at Beaver Stadium as the presence of snow made it seem more like a December game during the regular season. There was still a huge crowd presence, though, and it added even more intrigue to the proceedings.
The defense jumped out to a 23-15 lead in the first quarter thanks to a number of plays behind the line of scrimmage. The offense got off to a strong start, though, as sophomore Steven Bench drove the white team 79 yards for a touchdown during the game's opening drive. It was finished off by freshman running back Akeel Lynch, who hit paydirt from one yard out.
Once halftime came around, the defense had extended its lead to 47-30. An interception of freshman quarterback D.J. Crook was the blue team's biggest play, but the offense showed flashes once again.
Lynch had an impressive 27-yard scamper just before sophomore quarterback Tyler Ferguson threw a 27-yard scoring strike to sophomore tight end Jesse James.
The offense struck back in the third quarter as it drew closer and faced a 50-41 deficit heading into the final frame.
O'Brien excited the fans in attendance as he wore a headset and could be heard over the loudspeaker during the first series of the quarter. Bench put a punctuation point on that series as he connected with freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson for a score.
The defense put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter as the offense couldn't get much going, aside from an opening-drive that resulted in Ferguson finding freshman Richy Anderson for a short touchdown.
While the blue team came out on top, there was plenty to like about both squads on Saturday.
Steven Bench: B+
Perhaps the biggest position battle that fans were fixated on heading into the spring game was the quarterback competition between Bench and Ferguson. While neither sophomore definitively shined more than the other, Bench was quite impressive throughout and appeared to be the more consistent passer between them.
Bench got the game off to a strong start with a long touchdown drive, and although it was difficult for him to find a rhythm with O'Brien constantly changing quarterbacks and other personnel, there weren't many lulls in his play.
Bench saw limited action in only two games for the Nittany Lions last year, but he looked like a seasoned veteran who is ready to lead the offense.
He finished with 99 yards and one touchdown on the day, and while his statistics don't necessarily leap off the page, O'Brien had to be pleased. The Nittany Lions haven't gotten great quarterback play in recent years, so simply playing steady football like Bench did on Saturday is an improvement.
Tyler Ferguson: B
The other combatant in the quarterback battle was Ferguson, and he acquitted himself quite well too. Ferguson had a few more hiccups than Bench as he fumbled a snap in the first quarter and had a couple of three-and-outs, but he found a way to get his squad into the end zone on a few occasions.
Ferguson is at somewhat of a disadvantage since Bench was on the team last year and actually played a little bit, but it's possible that he is more polished due to the fact that he played significantly at his junior college last year.
O'Brien is going to go with the best man for the job regardless of outside circumstances, though, and Ferguson didn't do much to hurt himself.
Bench probably started with a slight upper hand and that is likely still the case, but Ferguson threw for 90 yards and two scores and commanded the offense well.
If Saturday's game is any indication, Penn State may have two guys capable of taking over the reins at quarterback.
Akeel Lynch: A
While junior Zach Zwinak will likely keep the starting running back job this season after racking up 1,000 yards last year, redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch certainly showed O'Brien that he deserves some playing time.
The focus may have been largely on the quarterback battle between Bench and Ferguson, but Lynch was the star of the day as he rushed for a touchdown and made a number of spectacular plays.
Lynch is among the team's most exciting freshmen and he proved that throughout the day as he completed a number of impressive runs.
The Nittany Lions have relied heavily on the running game over the past several years, and without a proven quarterback on the roster, conventional wisdom states that it will once again be the case in 2013.
Even though Zwinak will receive the bulk of the carries and will be O'Brien's go-to guy, there are certain situations that could put Lynch on the field.
Every team needs more than one serviceable running back, and Lynch proved on Saturday that he is a home run threat who could give Penn State's offense a totally different dimension in 2013 and in the future.