UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Wisconsin game today could be his final one in college. Junior wide receiver Allen Robinson has put together one of the best seasons in Penn State history, setting a school record for receptions and receiving yards, catching impossible passes at crucial moments and making life difficult for any defender who tries to tackle him.
Robinson is projected by scouting services to be a second, third or even late first-round draft pick if he leaves a year early for the NFL. He has been mum on the subject. Though he hasn’t spoken to reporters the past couple of weeks, his official stance was that he wouldn’t think about it until after the season. So it’s possible he could come back and make plays for Penn State for one more season. For this year, he has just one game left, one more opportunity to add to his totals of 89 receptions and 1,310 yards.
“He’s done a great job and gone up and made some fantastic plays for us over the last two years,” coach Bill O’Brien said.
O’Brien saw all of this coming. At least that’s what he says now. Back when he took over the team in early 2012, he saw Robinson in spring practices and noticed size, speed, a competitive spirit and intelligence — and some rawness, too. Robinson didn’t quite know how to harness those talents.
Since then, he has learned. And for that, O’Brien credits the system and the size of Robinson, but mainly Robinson’s efforts.
The stories of his improvement are well-known: He has gone from a lightly recruited afterthought to one of the nation’s best after summers and winters spent dedicating his life to the weight room and working on his craft.
The progress from last year to this year has been evident. He forces defenders to miss. When Robinson gets the ball on short passes, he often jukes a defender or two before someone can bring him down, flashing a potent combination of physicality and speed. That’s one reason his yards per catch total has increased from 13.2 in 2012 to 14.7 this year.
The other reason, of course, would be the long balls. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg says Robinson allows him to throw more risky passes. To Robinson, he can throw the jump balls, the 50-50 balls where the quarterback spots a receiver and a corner far down the field and the play could go either way.
Robinson said he worked with several of the defensive backs on these plays in the summer. He tried to perfect getting his body in the right position and tracing the exact trajectory of the ball.
What has transpired this season because of his work is memorable. Against Michigan, he made what has to be the highlight of the season, snagging a 36-yard pass at the 1. A few weeks later against Illinois, he made almost the same play in another comeback victory. Along the way, he has passed famous Penn State names such as O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram in the school record book.
“It’s something you dream of, being in a history book,” Robinson said. “I don’t try to pay too much attention to it, but it’s definitely an honor.”
Perhaps another year of college would allow him to progress further, to catapult him into a better position in the NFL draft. He faces a tough decision.
Whatever his final choice may be, though, he’s rarely on the wrong side of a 50-50.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.