Dienhart: Penn State spring football wrap

The Penn State spring game ushered in the James Franklin era amid much excitement and energy in front of over 72,000 fans, the most for any spring game this year. It couldn’t be any other way with a coach like the enthusiastic Franklin. The Blue squad took a resounding 37-0 win over the White squad.

Here are some things I learned.

[ MORE: Watch a replay of the Penn State spring game on BTN2Go ]

1. Penn State’s already loaded backfield may have another weapon. Preferred walk-on Cole Chiappialle could be added to the mix to go along with the likes of Zach Zwinak (who was held out of the spring game), Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton. Time and again, PSU used a Wildcat formation that saw Chiappialle take a direct snap and bolt up field. It was quite effective, as the Wildcat was a scheme used often by Franklin when he was at Vanderbilt. Chiappiale had nine carriers for 63 yards with two touchdowns. The 5-8 Beaver Falls, Pa., native is a cult hero waiting to happen.

2. The line play on both sides of the ball was a good news/bad news proposition. The offensive line was a question entering spring drills. And, the unit remains a question exiting spring drills. How ugly was it on Saturday? The group allowed nine sacks. There were just four healthy, initial scholarship offensive linemen playing Saturday. Left tackle Donovan Smith is the unquestioned cornerstone. After that? Conversely, the d-line looked good. Yes, it was battling a maligned offensive line. Still, the defensive front looks like the top unit on the team.

3. The quarterbacks are still adapting to the new offense. Collectively, the Nittany Lions quarterbacks hit 26-of-49 passes for 199 yards with no touchdowns and three picks. I have to think that in time, Christian Hackenberg will settle in—just like he did last season after getting a crash course in Bill O’Brien’s offense.

4. The linebackers left much to be desired. But know this: Mike Hull and Brandon Bell saw action in just a few plays, and Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman were out. Once this group is healthy and playing collectively, it should round into form.

The number: 81, passing yards for true freshman quarterback Michael O’Connor. He hit 11-of-16 attempts and looks to have a bright future. Good to know, even though seeing the field may be tough behind Christian Hackenberg.

The quote: “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think our defense is slightly ahead. We’ve got better depth on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front, which is really where the game is played.” –James Franklin

Offseason to-do list
1. Improve offensive line
2. Get linebackers up to speed
3. Develop targets in passing game
4. Cultivate more overall team depth

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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