Notebook: QB race remains murky

April, 20, 2013
4/20/13
7:19
PM ET
Steven Bench and Tyler FergusonAP Photo, USA Today SportsThe quarterback battle at Penn State between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson will continue, and they'll be joined by top recruit Christian Hackenberg this summer.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien crossed his arms and furiously chewed a piece of gum when the inevitable question was asked Saturday: Was the Penn State coach any closer to naming a starting quarterback?

He had to know the question was coming. That was the storyline of the Blue-White Game, the main topic fans discussed in the stands, and a topic that reporters have peppered him about every time O'Brien has made himself available.

"No, I'm not any closer," he said. "But I enjoy coaching both guys and, eventually, we'll have to make a decision. But I'm not ready to make that right now."

Inconsistency appeared to be theme of the day for junior college newcomer Tyler Ferguson and returning sophomore Steven Bench. O'Brien didn't use that term, but he might as well have. He said the pair obviously would've liked to have some plays back but also made some nice throws.

Ferguson epitomized that inconsistency before halftime. The California native showed great touch on back-to-back highlight-worthy passes -- but followed that up with a near interception and then took a sack. Bench also had his share of ups and downs.

"At this point, there's not too much of a difference between them because they're learning and they're both trying to improve their game," wide receiver Allen Robinson said. "So one isn't too much ahead of the other or vice versa. It just depends on maybe a couple throws here or a couple throws there. They're about neck and neck."

Both players' statistics were pretty similar Saturday. Bench finished 9-of-15 for 99 yards and one touchdown, and he led his unit to two scoring drives. Ferguson was nearly a mirror image, finishing 9-of-15 for 90 yards and two touchdowns -- and he obviously led his unit to two scoring drives, too.

O'Brien said he planned to take this upcoming week to review the film from the spring to better gauge where his two quarterbacks stood. But, for now, it appeared as if the Blue-White Game did little to lend clarity to the quarterback race.

He got ... mic'd up: In one of the more lighthearted parts of the annual spring game, O'Brien wore a microphone during the opening drive of the third quarter. His comments were played over the Beaver Stadium public address system, and O'Brien chose to have some fun with it.

He started a "We Are ..." chant. And then countered back: "Not loud enough!" He then yelled: "We got to get the wave going on or something!" And, sure enough, fans started the wave a few minutes later.

He praised Bench and Lynch briefly and also added: "I'm on the loudspeaker now. Don't make me yell at you."

Big hit: The crowd let out a few "ooohs" when it came to one play by Nyeem Wartman, a redshirt fresman linebacker.

He sniffed out a screen play and came sprinting from several yards back to tackle Deron Thompson near the line of scrimmage. The crack could be heard throughout the stadium.

"The back didn't look like he was ready to pass block and went out for a screen," Wartman said. I'm kind of disappointed about that play. I should've wrapped him up and took him to the ground. My eyes did light up; I've just got to work on the fundamentals.

"I didn't wrap him; I just gave him a nice little pop. ... I was licking my chops way too much there."

Spring awards: The Jim O'Hora Award for "exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement" for defensive players went to defensive end C.J. Olyaniyan and cornerback Jordan Lucas. The Red Worrell Award, for offensive players, went to center Ty Howle. And the Frank Patrick Total Commitment Award was earned by offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach and linebacker Mike Hull.

Who impressed A-Rob?: Well, besides tight end Jesse James, who led all players with five catches for 77 yards and score, Robinson said three younger wideouts have grabbed his attention: redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, redshirt sophomore Matt Zanellato and early enrollee Richy Anderson.

Anderson, a slot receiver, has only been on campus since January.

"Just him coming early from high school, he's picking up things so fast," Robinson said.

Standout tailbacks: The headliner in the backfield Saturday was Akeel Lynch, but Deron Thompson also impressed by finishing with 97 yards on 12 carries -- including a 41-yard rush that ended up being the biggest offensive play of the day.

Backup fullback Dom Salomone had 10 carries for 45 yards. Lynch said Salomone doesn't receive many carries in practice, and he said his favorite part of the day was watching Salomone.

"Everyone was excited for him," Lynch said. "He works hard. Being there for him is real fun."

Injuries/no-shows: Penn State rested quite a few of its top players, and several others were kept out for precautionary reasons. Tight end Matt Lehman and wide receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder did not play, and running back Zach Zwinak was held out after he got dinged up in the first quarter.

O'Brien said he wasn't sure what Zwinak's injury was, but Lynch said he believed it was just a minor bump.

The following players were listed on the injury report but should be good to go by training camp: Bill Belton (toe), Adam Breneman (knee), Kyle Carter (wrist), Garry Gilliam (leg), DaQuan Jones (back), Ben Kline (shoulder) and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder).

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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