Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon explained Thursday why one of Penn State's fastest players has disappeared from the offense.
Hixon said in a conference call with reporters that many personnel groupings used in recent weeks are designed to have true freshman Trevor Williams on the field instead of sophomore Alex Kenney.
Williams has caught six passes in the past four games. Kenney hasn’t caught a pass since grabbing four at Illinois on Sept. 29.
In Hixon’s mind, Williams and Kenney possess different talents. Williams, who caught 99 passes last year as a senior at Calvert Hall College (Md.) High School, runs clean routes. Kenney, who played running back State College High School and spent most of his first two years at Penn State as a defensive back, offers speed.
Hixon said both players will be needed Saturday at 18th-ranked Nebraska.
“Alex still plays and he will play even more this game based on what we are doing in the offense,” Hixon said. “Certain personnel groupings, it’s Alex. Certain personnel groupings, it’s Trevor. There have been more personnel groupings that happened to be Trevor than Alex. But both of them are going to get to play and both are going to play quite a bit.”
Multiple receivers might needed to crack Nebraska’s secondary. The athletic unit is the strength of a defense allowing 156 passing yards per game.
Three starting defensive backs are 6-foot-1 or taller. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is 6-foot-3. Penn State’s tallest starting wide receiver is 6-foot-3 sophomore Allen Robinson.
“They are big,” Hixon said of Nebraska’s secondary. “What we try to tell our guys is that just do what we have been doing, continue to play physical as much as you can. We have to be able to accept the challenge and make contested catches because they do a really good job of playing man coverage, press coverage and also off coverage. This is going to be a really big game by playing at Nebraska. It’s a big challenge and the players are looking forward to it.”
He knows BoPenn State senior fullback Michael Zordich understands why head coach Bo Pelini brings a feisty demeanor to Nebraska’s sideline. Zordich and Pelini hail from Youngstown, Ohio, a city known for producing passionate football players and coaches.
The duo both graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School.
“We’re from the same exact area,” Zordich said. “I see him a whole lot. We talk often when we are in town together.”
Busy fall Saturdays prevent Zordich from watching Nebraska’s games, so he gets most of his Pelini stories from second-hand sources.
“It seems like he’s a fiery guy,” Zordich said. “I have known that very well just from talking to people. He has a lot of emotions and he’s good at what he does.”
Nebraska running back Braylon Heard, wide receiver Tim Marlowe and offensive lineman Mark Pelini also attended Cardinal Mooney.
Showing their smartsSenior defensive end Pete Massaro, junior guard John Urschel, sophomore defensive end Brad Bars and redshirt freshman linebacker Ben Kline were named to the Capital One Academic All-District Team selected by CoSIDA on Thursday. The selections make them candidates for the Academic All-America Team.
Penn State is tied with Nebraska, Northern Illinois and Duke for the most all-district selections. Penn State hasn’t placed four players on the district team since 2009.
All four players have GPAs of 3.8 or higher. Urschel graduated with a 4.0 GPA last May in math. Massaro graduated last December with a 3.85 GPA in finance.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.