STATE COLLEGE — The danger, Ricky Rahne said, is getting bored in your play-calling.
“That’s the one thing I keep telling myself,” Penn State’s new offensive coordinator said after Saturday’s Blue-White Game. “You can’t get bored. You can’t be afraid to call the same play 15, 16 times (in a season). Because it works. You can’t get too cute.
“I don’t want to get too complicated where it handcuffs (young players) and disturbs their growth. You’ve gotta make sure those guys are ready to play. They’ll have to play for us this year in a critical moment, and that’s going to determine whether we win a championship or not.”
Rahne has himself a three-year starter at quarterback to run his offense. He has an experienced offensive line.
But for the Nittany Lions to contend again for a Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2018, it will require Rahne and defensive coordinator Brent Pry to get new faces ready to play.
Several were on display Saturday as the Blue team topped the White 21-10 in the annual intra-squad scrimmage at Beaver Stadium in front of an estimated 71,000.
For Rahne’s offense, it was freshman wideout Mac Hippenhammer, who redshirted in 2017.
The Indiana native, who doubles as an outfielder for Penn State’s baseball team, hauled in a game-high four catches for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
With a build and skillset that reminds of former Lions standout Jordan Norwood, Hippenhammer shook open in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown from Trace McSorley in the first quarter to open the scoring. He also closed it in the fourth when he got behind the defense and snagged a 29-yard score on a pinpoint throw from roommate Sean Clifford.
“That’s who Mac is. Mac’s a gamer,” Rahne said. “He makes big plays in big spots. You can see it in his eyes. Especially after that first series, I could tell he was focused and locked in. When he does that, he’s hard to deal with.”
Lions coach James Franklin praised Hippenhammer for his work off the field as well.
Hippenhammer was eager to play two sports during the recruiting process and Franklin told him it would depend first on his work in the classroom to be able to handle it all.
“He crushed it in the classroom and did better than I even anticipated,” Franklin said.
Two other redshirt freshman receivers had some highlights on the day. Cam Sullivan-Brown had a tough catch over the middle to set up Hippenhammer’s first touchdown. K.J. Hamler had the longest play of the day, completing a 50-yard catch and run.
But that play ended when another player finishing up his first year, safety Lamont Wade, tracked him down from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by true freshman linebacker Jesse Luketa.
The Lions’ other early enrollee at linebacker, former Harrisburg High star Micah Parsons, finished with a game-high eight tackles, recording a sack.
“He’s just one of those guys,” Pry said. “He’s got it within him to, no matter what’s needed, you can usually get it from him.”
The guy who turned the most heads on defense, however, was redshirt sophomore cornerback Zech McPhearson.
Playing for a White squad comprised of all backups, McPhearson recorded three pass break-ups and nearly picked off a McSorley deep ball.
“I thought the guy that kind of stood out to me was Zech McPhearson,” Franklin said. “I thought he made a bunch of plays and played with a lot of confidence, it was great to see that.”
“I took a lot from (departed starters Grant Haley and Christian Campbell),” McPhearson said. “All those guys taught me a lot. They welcomed me with open arms and helped me get to where I am now.”
Fifth-year senior Mark Allen scored Blue’s other touchdown on a 1-yard run. McSorley finished 10-for-14 passing for 107 yards and a touchdown and was the game’s leading rusher with 41 yards on six carries — though it certainly helps when the defense isn’t allowed to tackle you.
For the first time in three years, the White squad found the end zone. It came courtesy of Abington Heights grad Joe Arcangelo, who snagged a 3-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal from Jake Zembiec with Parsons in coverage.
“He’s got some strength,” Rahne said of Arcangelo. “He’s got some pretty good hands. He’s got to continue to focus on what his assignment is all the time. But he’s done a nice job of getting in there and competing.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse