Allen Robinson said Kyle Carter has the hands to outmatch linebackers and the size to break free from cornerbacks, so how did Iowa defend him?
Well, with linebackers and corners. And for the first half, it didn’t work.
“He’s definitely somebody who’s going to give defenses fits,” Robinson said.
Carter’s 85 receiving yards by halftime Saturday were a career-high for the tight end. He went unused in the second half (he was targeted once), but the Nittany Lions had already established a comfortable 24-point lead before it started, and the offense shifted to the ground in the fourth quarter. His big day earned him the Big Ten Freshman of the Week Award for the first time in his career.
The highlight of Carter’s game came in the first quarter, when he caught a 34-yard pass off his defender’s helmet on fourth down, and proceeded to run a few extra yards before going to the ground.
“That was a great play,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “It was a conversion type play and he converted it properly. He just went up, and he’s got really good hands. He’s an athletic guy. He was a basketball player in high school. Very bright guy. Instinctive. He made a real nice play on that to keep the drive alive.”
Garry Gilliam, Matt Lehman and Jesse James usually run more direct routes to create mismatches with smaller defenders, making them more traditional tight ends. McGloin often looks for them on touchdown passes from the red zone. Lehman and James have four combined touchdown receptions to Carter’s one.
Robinson said Carter’s greatest assets are his hands, which make him more like a wide receiver than a true tight end. He showcased them on his 34-yard grab, but at the same time Carter caught a series of mid-range passes Saturday, ranging from four to 15 yards.
When he runs those shorter routes, Carter can get back to the line of scrimmage faster and build off the Lions’ NASCAR, or no-huddle, offense. Carter said he liked playing at the NASCAR’s fast pace against the Hawkeyes, which caught their defense off guard on many different plays.
“By the end of the game, you could tell,” Carter said. “But at the end of the game, that NASCAR is tiring on us, but it’s definitely more tiring on them. They always got to be ready for us making different breaks like that.
“I enjoy it a lot. It keeps us on the attack. The defense can’t sub, do whatever they want to do with different plays, they got to keep it basic.
Whether the Lions are running the NASCAR or not, Carter has found ways to catch the ball. A week ago, he was named to the Mackey Award list for the nation’s top tight end. There are 26 tight ends on the list, and Carter is the only freshman.
“Kyle is one of our great targets,” Robinson said. “He showed that [Saturday]. He’s really able to give defenses a different look.”