Kyle Carter thinks every day about how he can get back to his 2012 form. For him, the confidence he needed came in a play — one he runs almost every day.
After offensive mistakes and a failure to play complementary football on Saturday, Penn State found itself in overtime against a woeful Illinois team. Following rushes from Bill Belton and a completion to tight end Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg slung a 15-yard bullet Carter’s way into the front and center of the end zone.
The freshman stepped up and threw one of his best passes of the year, splitting two defenders along the way. After the game, the Carter pointed to the middle of his torso to explain where the ball hit him for the touchdown that would serve as the game-winner.
“Hack, I mean, he puts it right on the money, man,” Carter said. “I can’t thank him enough, he put it right there. It hit me right in the stomach so there was no way I was going to be able to drop that.”
The play Bill O’Brien dialed up was one of the coach’s favorites, Carter said, and a play they’ve run over and over again in practice. It was his only catch of the game, but Carter hopes it’s the one that’ll get him on track this year.
The Bear, Del. native broke his wrist last year against Nebraska and sat out for the rest of the season. The injury kept him out of spring practice, and O’Brien said Carter wasn’t at full strength during summer workouts.
In 2012, the consensus first-team Freshman All-American led the tight end corps and was second on the team only to Allen Robinson in receptions. Carter grabbed 36 balls for 453 yards (average of 12.6 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
This year’s performances show different results. Through eight games, Carter’s accumulated 186 yards on 14 catches — nowhere close to where he was at this time during last year’s campaign.
“I’m my own biggest critic,” Carter said, “and I think about my season every day and trying to get back to where I was last year and everything. Making that play definitely helped my confidence.”
O’Brien said while Carter’s wrist injury isn’t an excuse, his relative level of productivity isn’t his fault.
“He’s a heck of a football player and he made a big catch there for us at the end,” he said. “I love coaching the kid. He’s a smart guy. Good student. Team guy. Fun guy to coach.”
Anna Orso can be reaced at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow her on Twitter at @anna_orso.