Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson eludes the tackle of Indiana corneback Michael Hunter and runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown in a game last month.
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The result of the Ohio State game had no longer been in doubt for several minutes of game time and nearly two hours of real time when wide receiver Allen Robinson left his imprimatur on an otherwise “meh” contest for Penn State. He hadn’t performed up to his standards in the first half, but he was making his presence known, scoring on a 65-yard touchdown reception.
He finished with 12 receptions for 173 yards. Nobody else had more than four receptions for Penn State, and the other receivers combined for seven receptions for 64 yards. Even by Robinson’s standards, he had monopolized the receiving game.
Many times this season, the question has been put to coach Bill O’Brien about whether this is a good thing. To ask this question is to equate the high amount of productivity of Robinson with a lack of other solid receiving options and wonder if the lack of options harms Robinson and Penn State. But do the Nittany Lions need more production from other receivers?
Robinson has 55 receptions for 878 yards this season.
The team as a whole has 154 receptions for 1,939 yards, meaning Robinson has accounted for 36 percent of the receptions and 45 percent of the receiving yards.
Penn State’s second-leading receiver is Brandon Felder, and he has 26 receptions. After that it’s Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Eugene Lewis who have between 11 and 15.
O’Brien addressed this topic a couple of weeks ago, questioning exactly what a second receiver was supposed to do.
“If Allen has 12 [catches in one game], should the number two guy have 11?” he asked.
O’Brien said most of Penn State’s pass plays are called with several options. All receivers are equal, and the one who is open or who quarterback Christian Hackenberg finds is the one who gets the ball. He said few pass plays are designed specifically for Robinson.
Still, Robinson’s share of the receptions is greater than last season when he had 28 percent of total receptions and 31 percent of receiving yards.
The thought behind having a one or two more prolific receivers is they would remove attention from Robinson, giving him more opportunities. But what if that’s what receivers like Felder and Lewis and tight ends James and Carter are doing? There is no statistic to describe a tangible difference the other receivers could be making for Robinson. By catching a small number of passes, they might be doing exactly what they should, which is deflecting the attention of the defense.
Penn State certainly is better off when Robinson, rather than other receivers, catches the ball: Robinson averages 16 yards per catch (better than the 13.2 he averaged last year), everyone else on the team averages 10.7 yards. With Robinson dominating Penn State’s-receiving categories, the Nittany Lions are second in the Big Ten in passing at 277 yards per game and ahead of their average of 273 yards of last year. The ceiling can’t be much higher.
The question shouldn’t be if it’s healthy for Robinson to take up nearly 50 percent of Penn State’s passing game. Perhaps it should be, can Robinson catch the ball even more?
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.
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