Penn State pass-catchers still sorting themselves out
September 11, 2013 8:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg targets receiver Richy Anderson in the second quarter Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
By Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- By the end of the first quarter of Penn State's first game this season, wide receiver Matt Zanellato had as many receptions as he had all of last year.
"It definitely gives a real confidence boost," he said.
Zanellato got his catches, two of them, while receiver Allen Robinson sat out the first half for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.
But with Robinson now in the lineup -- and dominating so far this year -- the other wide receivers and tight ends are still trying to be a formidable group, attempting to deflect some of the attention away from the star and make defenses pay when he attracts the overwhelming share of it.
The wide receivers in this group have been more productive than they were last year. Receivers other than Robinson caught 23 passes against Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Of the 48 completions this season, those receivers have caught 48 percent of them, greater than the 24 percent of total completions they accounted for last year.
Brandon Felder has been the most productive so far. He has 12 receptions for 96 yards, second only to Robinson in both categories.
Geno Lewis has displayed the ability to make the big play. Against Syracuse, he caught a 54-yard touchdown pass when the defense was focused on Robinson.
"Lewis did a great job," coach Bill O'Brien said.
Of course, as the other wide receivers have caught a greater share of total completed passes in the first two games compared to last year, and Robinson's share has stayed about the same at 29 percent, it means that the other position group responsible for catching passes is catching fewer.
That would be the tight ends.
Last year, tight ends caught 31 percent of the completed passes.
In the first two games this year, they've caught 17 percent.
Injuries have been an issue for them. Matt Lehman injured his knee in the first half of the Syracuse game and will be out for the season. Kyle Carter played sparingly against Syracuse after hurting his elbow and has caught just two passes so far this season, both against Eastern Michigan.
"I just have to stay healthy," Carter said.
"I have to step up my game, definitely."
It has only been two games. These numbers could easily change, with the wide receivers not named Robinson catching fewer passes and the tight ends catching more.
O'Brien's offense changes each week, depending on the opponent.
And for him, the production by a given unit isn't important as long as Penn State gets the victory.
If that entails running the ball 90 times or passing it 90 times to Felder, he doesn't care.
The wide receivers and tight ends, though, realize each of them have a responsibility. They have to get open and make plays.
For Carter, that means more catches than he has had so far.
"Maybe I haven't let people down," he said. "But I'm letting myself down."
NOTES -- O'Brien said linebacker Mike Hull was scheduled to practice Tuesday and would likely be healthy enough to play Saturday against Central Florida. He said the same about linebacker Ben Kline. As for safety Ryan Keiser, who left the Eastern Michigan game with an injury, O'Brien said he was questionable for Saturday.