Spring game yields no changes in Penn State QB competition

Bill O'Brien gives direction to quarterback Steven Bench during the annual Blue-White game in State College, Pa. KEITH SRAKOCIC / AP
Bill O'Brien gives direction to quarterback Steven Bench during the annual Blue-White game in State College, Pa. KEITH SRAKOCIC / AP
Posted: April 22, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson battled all spring to be Matt McGloin's successor as Penn State's quarterback, getting just about an equal number of snaps through the 14 practices.

In Saturday's Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium, each quarterback threw 15 passes and completed nine, with Bench connecting for one touchdown and Ferguson two.

So when head coach Bill O'Brien came in out of this "spring" day that featured a few snow squalls, a biting wind, and temperatures around 40 degrees, and was asked who had the edge, he indicated the competition still was an even one.

"I'll go back by myself and watch all the film from the spring over the next week," O'Brien said. "I think that both guys did some really good things. As I sit here right now, I'm not closer [to naming a No. 1]. I've enjoyed coaching those guys. Obviously I'll have to make a decision, but I'm not ready to make that now."

The offense scored one touchdown in each quarter although the defense won the game, 67-47, under O'Brien's unique scoring system.

Bench, who backed up McGloin last season, hit tight end Brent Wilkerson with a 6-yard touchdown pass. Ferguson, a junior-college transfer, had scoring throws of 27 yards to tight end Jesse James and 5 yards to freshman Richy Anderson, showing good zip on the latter pass.

O'Brien did not make either quarterback available for interviews after the game, and it was difficult for other offensive players to detect any edge one way or the other.

"Both guys came in and learned a lot," center Ty Howle said. "They're taking control of the huddle. They're being a general out there. They've done real well learning the offense. It's been great to see how far they've come from the start of spring to now."

The quarterback competition introduces a third candidate - highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg - at the start of preseason camp in August.

Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions couldn't make it through the game, played before a crowd estimated at 28,000, without injury. Zach Zwinak, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, started at tailback and rushed twice and caught a pass before leaving with an injury to his left hand or wrist. O'Brien said he did not know the severity of the injury.

With Bill Belton sidelined with a toe injury, Akeel Lynch, who redshirted last fall as a freshman, took over and gained 83 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown.

"I thought he ran hard," O'Brien said. "I'm always stressing with Akeel getting his pads down and running with his pads out over his toes. I think he did a good job of that today. He's a great guy, man, what a good kid."

Lynch said he "had those jitters" when he came out of the tunnel at the start.

"It was great," he said. "It was just a great experience overall. I appreciate the fans for coming out. I know we had all four seasons today, so it was definitely something special."

Nittany notes. O'Brien, who grew up 20 minutes north of Boston and still has family there, said he felt terrible for all those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.

"I love that city," he said. "But like President Obama said, 'Boston is a very resilient city.' We caught [the alleged bombers Friday], so that was good."

Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

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