Blue-White Game Preview - The Offense

Tens of thousands of avid Penn State football fans will gather in State College next Saturday, April 20, for the annual Blue-White Game. Here is an in-depth preview of what to expect from the Nittany Lions offensively in this game.

The Nittany Lions will head into the 2002 campaign with 16 returning starters, but next weekend's Blue-White game will give some of the youngsters a chance to show their talents.

Penn State has witnessed as many as 70,000 fans for past spring games.  Indeed, large crowds are the norm at the annual spring scrimmage and this year figures to be no different as there is a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Zack Mills led offense.

The spring football game gives the Penn State staff a chance to bring in many of February's recruiting commitments, and a bumper crop of high profile junior recruits should be on hand to view the spring clash, soak up some sunshine, and just get used to the atmosphere that is Penn State Football.

Tailgating might not be at the 100,000+ high water mark that we'll see in September, but it will be in high gear.  Brats, dogs, pretzels, and a beer or two will be seen among the many Winnebago's and other hotels on wheels that many PSU fans call home on football weekends.

But what about the football Marsh? Oh, yeah, there will be some football too.  Lot's of football for the true diehard fans.  Lot's of fresh faces to make the imagination wander.  Read on.

At QB we can expect to see Zack Mills wearing a green "no contact" jersey on all of the snaps he takes.  Figure on Zack playing about one half of this game, or less.  The Mills you'll see will be sporting a new look.  Reportedly, Zack has added some muscle and now checks in at 215lbs.  Zack is being mentioned as not only an all Big10 favorite this year, but he's even getting some dark horse Heisman whispers.

The back up QB's at this time are the highly touted Michael Robinson, a red shirt freshman from Richmond, Va., and Chris Ganter, another red shirt freshman from State College High School, and I'd expect these two QB's to get the bulk of the snaps in this game.

Robinson is known by another name as well - Superman.  When you see his physical skills you'll understand where that name came from.  Mike is a phenomenal athlete at 6'2" and 225lbs. of rock hard muscle.  Mike is equally as comfortable running the ball as he is throwing it.  He's quick enough to run around defenders and strong enough to run through them as well.

Chris Ganter is the son of offensive coordinator Fran Ganter.  Chris had an outstanding Big33 outing last summer where he displayed great footwork and both a quick and accurate arm.  I'm interested to see how both Robinson and Ganter have progressed in their first year on the squad.

Larry Johnson will get the standard number of carries that most incumbent tailbacks get in this game, which is to say, not many.  Larry is reported to have placed even more muscle on his frame this off season and now is up to almost 225lbs.  He's always been fast, and he's always been tough, now he's even big.

Backing up Johnson will be Pete Gilmore and Mike Gasparato.  Gilmore is the younger brother of departed TE John Gilmore.  He goes 5' 10", 210lbs and is a very well built kid.  He also has very good vision and almost always hits the hole hard.

Gasparato was the South Carolina Co-Player of the Year in high school.  He and Gilmore both have three years of eligibility remaining.

The FB spot will be manned by returning starter Sean McHugh.  Sean was beginning to have a break out season last year when he broke his right leg in the first quarter against Michigan.  Sean had 6 grabs for 45 yards against Iowa and appeared on the verge of becoming an integral part of the offense.  Rumors have it that Sean has been simply outstanding in practice this spring.

Sean looks to be backed up by senior Ricky Upton and junior Paul Jefferson.  Upton is a former Tennessee Co-Player of the Year in high school and Jefferson is a huge blocking FB at 255lbs.  Each of these guys has some experience in the lineup and should make some contribution to the squad this year.

It all starts upfront.  How many times have we heard that?  That being the catchy expression directed at the big men who man the offensive line.  Penn State has suffered two consecutive losing seasons, and many fans have aimed their frustrations squarely at what they perceive to be the main reason for these losses - the offensive line.

It's my belief that the blocking from the offensive line has been substandard the past few years for a variety of reasons, but I think this game will give you a lot of reason to think the future will be bright for this unit.

Penn State returns starters Tyler Lenda at one guard spot, Joe Iorio at center, and Gus Felder and Chris McKelvey at tackle.  Matt Schmitt has also started in the past and he too returns this year to challenge for a starting spot after suffering a bout of mononucleosis last year.

The concern with Tyler Lenda has never been one of technique, it's been of a question of size.  Lenda is reportedly up to around 290lbs this spring, so size should not be a factor this year.  Felder may not play in the spring game due to a heavy course load, but McKelvey will be in the game at tackle.  Chris is reportedly at 325lbs this spring, virtually the same size as Felder.  I'll be watching to see how quick Chris is at that size.

Joe Iorio is 6'5" and 302lbs and anchors the line at center.  Joe was greatly improved as last year progressed, and he looks to continue along that line this spring.  Fifth year senior Eric Rickenbach is his back up.  Junior David Costlow is the third center right now.

One of the offensive guard spots is wide open this year.  Look for sophomore Nick Marmo, 6'5" and 299lbs., and red shirt freshmen E.Z. Smith, 6'3" and 285lbs., and Tyler Reed, 6'5" and 300lbs, to be among the favorites for that spot.  Reed may also challenge at offensive tackle.

Marmo is rumored to have put together a great winter of workouts and now a great spring as well.  Smith and Reed were both legitimate All-American caliber players in high school.  Reed is as good as any lineman I have seen in the Big33 game in many years.

Another player we can't forget about at guard is Scott Davis.  Davis actually played some significant minutes last year, and this off season he's reported to have put on about 15lbs. of muscle to get to 287lbs.  If true, look for significant contributions from Scott.

Lastly, let's not forget about Tom McHugh at guard.  Tom is a workout fanatic who entered PSU on a full scholarship in the same class with Reed, Smith, and John Wilson.  Tom is reportedly up to almost 290lbs now.  He displayed quick feet in high school.  This is one kid I am very eager to see play in this game.  No one ever seems to discuss Tom McHugh in the same breath as the others, but you heard it here first, Tom McHugh looks like a player to me.  Don't count this kid out.

Junior Damone Jones has been injury plagued his whole career so far at Penn State.  Jones is a big strong kid at 6' 4" and 315lbs and is now finally healthy.  John Wilson is the huge offensive tackle from Florida that will see his first action inside Beaver Stadium.  He is 6'8" and 318lbs.

At tight end, we should see a lot of returning starter R.J. Luke.  We'll also see the two main back ups at TE in Andy Richardson and Isaac Smolko.  Richardson is known to have soft hands and Smolko is just a great athlete who now tips the scales at 267lbs.

The WR's you'll see in this game appear as talented as any group we have had since the Bobby Engram and Freddie Scott days.  Bryant Johnson has All-Big10 ability and Tony Johnson is emerging as a big play maker as well.

Getting a third and fourth option at WR is

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