Penn State’s White team kept seeing Christian Hackenberg throw.
On the Blue team’s second drive of Saturday’s Blue-White Game, the rising sophomore signal-caller found Jesse James and Akeel Lynch on back-to-back completions, both for 13 yards. One play later, DaeSean Hamilton caught a pass for six yards and suddenly, the Blue side was already just 28 yards out from the end zone.
If the defense thought it had caught on to any pattern in the play calling, it got thrown through a loop on the next play. Running back Cole Chiappialle took a direct snap and sprinted right up the middle with plenty of room to run for a 19-yard gain.
The drive ultimately ended with only a field goal for Blue, but the carry was the beginning of a trend that will likely be seen throughout coach James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State — the Wildcat formation.
“That will be a part of our offense. How much? I’m not sure,” Franklin said. “It just kind of depends how camp goes.”
Franklin said, since he’ll try to limit how much Hackenberg runs, the Wildcat will make the game a true 11-on-11 matchup, with everyone in the backfield needing to be accounted for by the defense.
“Every other offense you run, the defense has an advantage of plus-one on you,” Franklin said. “So I think it makes sense. We’ve had a lot of success with it in the past. So it will be a part.”
Chiappialle took several more direct snaps during the spring scrimmage, a type of play that has not been common in recent seasons.
But the Wildcat, popularized by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins during their surprising 11-5 season in 2008-09, looks to be finding a home at Penn State.
“We did a lot of that down at [Vanderbilt] and had some good success with it,” offensive coordinator John Donovan told reporters. “…That was just a showing of what we are working on.”
With former coach Bill O’Brien giving his hurry-up offense the “NASCAR” moniker, Franklin was asked if the Wildcat would get a unique name for the Lions.
“I think we’re going to go with ‘Wildcat,’ ” Franklin said, drawing a few laughs. “I think that’s what we’re going to call it. I’m more worried about the execution and things like that than I am about coming up with some catchy catchphrase.”
Franklin implemented other trickery into the Blue team’s offense Saturday, too. Later in the contest, Chiappialle began to take a carry outside of the left tackle, only to hand it off to wide receiver Geno Lewis on a reverse. Lewis, a quarterback in high school, threw up a deep ball while rolling to the right and found Matt Zanellato open downfield for a 56-yard touchdown.
Lewis isn’t the only former quarterback on the Lions’ roster who could benefit from the creative playcalling.
Running back Bill Belton also took snaps in high school and was used briefly in the Wildcat formation in his freshman season at Penn State. Belton was the first prep quarterback in New Jersey to pass for 2,000 yards and top 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons.
“We all, the running back crew, like that,” Lynch said. “…Bill Belton being a former quarterback in high school, and also Zach [Zwinak] can do it as well, too. So we all can do it.”
Eric Shultz can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @Shultz_Eric.