After 15 minutes Saturday, Allen Robinson appeared to be well on his way to another 100-yard game, which has become the expectation of Penn State faithful.
In the final 45 minutes, though, Robinson was shut down and quarterback Christian Hackenberg forced the ball to his star wideout often. The junior didn’t have a catch after a three-catch, 43-yard first quarter.
Neither Robinson nor Hackenberg were made available to the media after Penn State’s 34-0 win over Kent State. But Robinson’s lack of production in the second half begs the question — if Hackenberg doesn’t have his favorite target available, where does he go?
No receiver had more than three catches Saturday. Brandon Felder and Jesse James both had three, while Kyle Carter, Adam Breneman, Bill Belton and Richy Anderson all had one in heavy wind and rain, which let up considerably in the second half.
Coach Bill O’Brien called a fade to Robinson repeatedly in the red zone Saturday and it just wouldn’t work. Hackenberg’s interception was also forced into double coverage on Robinson.
“We need to go back and continue to practice that,” O’Brien said of the fade. “Again, coach it better. Execute it better with both Christian and Allen, and we’ll get better at that. I thought at times the ball was thrown a little flat, or Allen could have run a better route, but it didn’t work out too well today.”
Robinson still leads the Big Ten in yards (448) and catches (26). He could set nearly every Penn State receiving record in the next two seasons. But the Nittany Lions need another weapon that Hackenberg can rely on. The quarterback was 13-of-35 for 176 yards Saturday after completing over 70 percent of his passes in his first three collegiate games.
Day to remember:
Offense: RB Akeel Lynch
Redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch burst onto the scene in the second half and rushed for 123 yards on 14 carries, both of which are career-highs. Saturday was Lynch’s second 100-yard game this season, putting him ahead of both Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton in 100-yard games. Lynch also logged a career-long 43-yard rush in the third quarter, the second-longest for a Nittany Lion all season.
Defense: Saf. Ryan Keiser
Safety Ryan Keiser, who spent most of his college career on special teams, grabbed his first pick in the third quarter and another pass slipped right through his fingers. The senior posted a career-high four tackles (one for loss), a sack and three pass breakups. After his career day, O’Brien said Keiser may have suffered an injury, but couldn’t say anything definitive.
Day to forget:
Offense: QB Christian Hackenberg
True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg showed his first struggles Saturday after straining to complete passes to any of his receivers. The 18-year-old signal caller came into the game with a 70 percent completion rate over the first three games. But Hackenberg look like a different player altogether this week when he went just 13-for-35 — a 37 percent completion rate. The quarterback also threw an interception and was sacked twice.
Defense: LB Nyeem Wartman
Redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman posted just two tackles, neither of which were solo, and recorded one pass breakup that could have been an interception. The linebacker said after the game that he’s got to do a better job catching those balls.
Kicker Sam Ficken's 54-yard field goal was the longest by a Penn State kicker since Herb Menhardt drilled a 54-yarder against North Carolina State in 1979.
Did you notice?
On several series, the Lions utilized three offensive tackles in Donovan Smith, Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam. O’Brien said after the game he felt the small switch-up gave the group an added physical presence.
Bill O’Brien chided the media after the game for not asking enough questions about the defense pitching a shutout, and then offered his thoughts unprompted.
“I thought the defense played a helluva football game today. They pitched a shutout and I think John Butler and those coaches over there and that crowd of players over there did a helluva f —… Helluva job. Anybody got any other questions about the defense?”