There is no surer sign of spring in Happy Valley than the sight of old cow pastures being overrun by a sea of Blue and White, and friends, tomorrow the smell of brats and burgers will fill the air as Nittany Nation reunites at last. The annual Blue-White Game kicks off at 3p.m. on Saturday and will be televised live on the Big Ten Network for those that can’t make the trip to Central Pennsylvania. It represents the last of 15 spring practices that began back in March and gives the fans an up-close and personal first look at the reigning Big Ten Champs as they begin their quest to defend the title.
Not long after the Nittany Lions returned home from the Rose Bowl back in January, head coach James Franklin laid down the challenge to fill Beaver Stadium to capacity on April 22, and by all accounts that challenge has been accepted. We may not quite reach 107k, the number that he’s repeated on Twitter since his arrival three years ago, but anywhere between 60k to 80k is a sure thing given all the buzz and anticipation generated on social media since the Nittany Lions put the pads on and went back to work.
The game itself is four quarters long with a running clock that pits the offense against the defense and usually has some special team drills mixed in. During Franklin’s first Blue-White in 2014, the roster numbers were so low that players had to switch jerseys and jump between both squads just to field a full 22-man exhibition. Three years later, Penn State has a full roster and its eyes set on bigger things than just a conference championship. FrankLion is as far away from the “hot seat” as one could possibly be, and an offense that spit and sputtered during his first two seasons is now one of the most lethal in college football.
One thing you won’t see on Saturday is Saquon Barkley in shoulder pads and a helmet. Bonafide Heisman Trophy-candidates can’t take the risk of injury in a game that doesn’t count, as much as we all want to see his magic. You may get a brief glimpse of his counterpart in the backfield, QB Trace McSorley, but not much more than that. Same goes for names like Gesicki, Cabinda, and Allen. Names that have had a heavy hand in bringing Penn State back to a level we are all accustomed to.
What you will get is a chance to see Tommy Stevens put on a show at quarterback and a first glimpse at the future as Jake Zembiec takes a turn at running the offense as well. You’ll see a battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball as names like Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney make their debut for the WildDogs and Michael Menet does the same for the Big Nasties on the O-Line. The departure of wideout Chris Godwin left a huge hole and both Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles look to fill his empty shoes. The absence of Barkley, coupled with a minor injury to backup Miles Sanders, opens the door for Andre Robinson and the squirmy Mark Allen to showcase their skills at running back. The graduation of mainstay Brandon Bell left an opening at outside linebacker as both Koa Farmer and Cam Brown will look to get the early lead as his replacement and at safety Nick Scott, Ayron Monroe, and Troy Apke have shoes to fill of their own with the departure of Malik Golden.
It’s a chance to see friends and family, ones we haven’t seen since late November. It’s an opportunity to mingle with legends of long ago as Lettermen mark their calendar’s and return to where it all began. It’s a chance to join the players walk, get your favorite autograph and welcome back a team that gave us so many memories, as well as hope, a season ago. In 2014, Nittany Nation flocked to Happy Valley to see the debut of a head coach no one knew much about. Three years later, it’s destined to be a Blue-White Extravaganza that awaits the conference champs once again!