CFF.com finished up some vacation time this past weekend visiting two college campuses to get a taste for some teams we’ll see play in 2014. On Friday night past, we ventured to Byrd stadium in College Park, Maryland to see the Terrapins, one of the two newest members of the Big Ten Conference, scrimmage in their Red-White game. We stayed for the first “half”, but most of our interest was meeting up with fellow Boonton High School classmate George Farrand whose son, Cole, has been a starting LB the last two years for the Terps. Cole enters his senior season. Recovering from shoulder injuries the last few years, Cole enters the 2014 season as a top rated LB in the Big Ten.
Most of the time while I was catching up with George, Maryland spent time with 7 on 7 drills. Maryland DBs played aggressively and made some great plays, but in the end the receiving corps seemed to get the upper hand as returning CJ Brown threw effectively during his play (16 of 24, 157 yards). The defense picked off several passes, one on a spectacular takeaway from the receiver. Maryland played four other back-up QBs during the evening as well. RB Brandon Ross made the big play late in the first half with a 75-yard TD burst up the middle to break things open. DB AJ Hendy intercepted a Brown pass and returned it 55 yards for a defensive score before the second quarter came to an end. The Maryland scrimmage showed strengths and weaknesses on both sides, but aside from Ross’s big run, I saw nothing where one side seemed to totally dominate the other. HC Randy Edsall said in his post-game conference that he was “looking for the guys who can make plays.” If that’s what he wanted, it looks like he came away with some good input from both offense and defense.
Later that evening I met up with John and Kelle Massimilla to stay at their house. The next morning, John and I drove up to State College to see what progress was being made at Penn state under new HC James Franklin. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon for which an estimated 72,000 showed up (The estimate at Maryland was just over 8,000). John predicted last season that this would probably PSU’s toughest season among the four under sanction for the Sandusky debacle.
There seemed to be a big drop off in the difference after the first team, especially on offense. We came away thinking that the offensive line needs work and that there’s not a lot of depth beyond the first team. Two O-line starters sat out due to injuries. Two more got hurt during the Blue-White game, and there were constant changes among the alignment of those that were healthy. It looks like a lot of experimentation is still taking place. For a Penn State offensive line, they don’t look physically big. I noted two significant differences regarding the play I saw this year as opposed to last season’s scrimmage under Bill O’Brien’s staff. The intensity of play seemed toned down, and the off-season weight training program results were not as notable this year as I recall last year. Last year’s scrimmage indicated the team was on a mission despite the odds stacked against them for the upcoming season.
The PSU defense returns some key starters and experience, and seems to be a work in progress that will play in the tradition of good, tough Penn State defenses. The offense did not play a lot with a lot of the skill position players we think we will see in the fall. Christian Hackenberg played sparingly which provided needed reps for some inexperienced QBs being evaluated. One of note is red-shirt freshman Austin Whipple. His Dad, as we noted in a previous write-up is the current and returning Head Coach at UMass. The Nittany Lions will host UMass on September 20 (we will skip that one). Returning RBs Zach Zwinak never carried and Bill Belton unofficially carried once from what we saw. The workhorse for today’s Blue-White game was sophomore RB Cole Chiappialle. He ran well and was the most effective runner on several wild cat plays called. Junior LB T.J. Rhattigan’s name was called often early in the scrimmage playing for the second team defense. He seems ready to step things up to get some playing time this fall. Overall, John and I came away feeling that there’s a lot of work to be done ahead to get the Lions ready for the 2014 season.
Another difference in this year’s spring game was that there was no live action for the kicking games. We realize that injuries are a concern at this time, but there was no pressure on punters and there were no blockers for the kick returners, so most of the action was moot. Last season, it was two-hand touch on the returners, but everyone was getting a look at for their special teams play. HC James Franklin gave a 30-second speech to thank the crowd and start up the “We are…Penn State!” cheers. After the scrimmage, he and his squad sang the alma mater with the Blue Band in front to the student section. In my conversation with George Farrand at the Maryland Red-White game, he had mentioned that his son Cole was recruited at U of M by Ralph Friedgen’s staff which included James Franklin. Shortly before Cole committed to Maryland, Friedgen was replaced by new HC Randy Edsall. Though disappointed, Cole was committed to Maryland and stayed. George said that PSU got a great coach with James Franklin in place. He was a primary recruiter when Cole was deciding on Maryland. We are hoping to see Cole playing up at State College against the Lions when the two collide on November 1. We’re looking forward to seeing both teams play and tailgating with the Farrands and Massimillas at the same time. George, John, and I hung out together for a while when we were all starting up early in our careers after college back in Boonton, NJ.
Next week, our spring flings will continue when we head up to West Point to see how Army is progressing under new HC Jeff Moncken. And speaking of former Maryland HC Ralph Friedgen, we’ll see him at Rutgers in two weeks when we attend the Scarlet-White game at Rutgers. “The Fridge” is now the offensive coordinator for Kyle Flood’s Scarlet Knights.