LINCOLN, Neb. — Before the season, Allen Robinson seemed like an unlikely choice to match former Penn State greats O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram in any receiving category.
Robinson, after all, caught three passes as a true freshman in 2011.
The scant total seems difficult to believe considering his 2012 success.
Robinson exceeded his 2011 output in Saturday’s first half at Nebraska by catching four passes. He then added two receptions in the second half of the 32-23 loss to tie McDuffie and Engram’s school single-season record of 62.
The sophomore ended the game with six catches for 97 yards. He tied McDuffie and Engram’s record with a 38-yard grab in the fourth quarter.
“It means a lot just with the prestige of the receivers to come through, to be up there with all those guys,” he said. “I don’t know those guys personally. I have definitely heard of them. That definitely means a lot.”
Robinson has blossomed following the defections of Justin Brown, Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey. Brown transferred to Oklahoma and Smith left the team for personal reasons and landed at Marshall this past summer. Kersey left the team for personal reasons in September.
Barring an injury, Robinson could break the record as early as next weekend against Indiana at Beaver Stadium.
“At the beginning of the season, before all the sanctions happened and people started leaving, I didn’t know what my future was for this season,” he said. “I just wanted to go out there and be productive for the team. Once a few players left, I knew that our roles in the offense would definitely step up. I knew I had to put the work in to give that extra effort because I was going to be one of the main focuses on the team and especially on offense to get offense going.”
The knee injury Jordan Hill suffered last week at Purdue didn’t force him to miss any games.
James Terry started at Hill’s defensive tackle spot, but Hill started rotating into the game in the first quarter. Hill played every defensive snap after James Terry left the game with a leg injury late in the third quarter. Hill finished with five tackles and left the stadium wearing ice around his left knee.
“It’s a little aching right now,” he said. “It’s going to be like that every game.”
Hill injured his knee early in the second quarter at Purdue. The injury, which was diagnosed as a sprain, limited his practice time this past week.
Redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter returned from an ankle injury that forced him to miss last week’s game. But he injured his right wrist Saturday and didn’t return after a third-quarter incompletion.
Safety Malcolm Willis hobbled off the field twice. He was favoring his left ankle when he left the field late in the third quarter.
Coach Bill O’Brien said he will update the status of the injured players at Tuesday’s weekly news conference.
Sam Ficken’s woes appear to be in the past.
The sophomore went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, drilling a season-long, 38-yarder to increase Penn State’s lead to 20-6 with 1:12 left in the first half. He also kicked a 27-yarder in the first quarter and a 35-yard in the third. Ficken also produced five touchbacks.
Ficken has rebounded from a slow start by hitting six straight field goals. He flourished Saturday despite heavy winds and getting hit in the eye by debris in the first quarter. To protect his eye, Ficken received drops and wore a hat and sunglasses while on the sideline.
Punter Alex Butterworth also wasn’t affected by Saturday’s brisk winds. Butterworth averaged 47.7 yards on three punts. He booted a 56-yarder in the first half with the wind at his back. He also used a rugby style to angle a 48-yard punt into the wind in the fourth.
“You can’t change it,” Butterworth said of the wind. “Every punter and kicker at this level will tell you they have dealt with something similar to this. You just have to kind of strategize.”
State College graduate Alex Kenney caught two passes for 15 yards. The receptions were Kenney’s first since catching four passes at Illinois on Sept. 29. ... Quarterback Matt McGloin, defensive end Sean Stanley and long snapper Emery Etter served as Penn State’s captains. ... Penn State won the first quarter 7-3. The Nittany Lion have outscored opponents 83-6 in the quarter and 157-39 in the first half this season. ... True freshman wide receiver Trevor Williams served as a kick returner for the first time in his career. ...The announced attendance was 85,527. Nebraska has sold out 324 straight games. Memorial Stadium is undergoing a facelift that will the school to squeeze more than 90,000 fans into the stadium beginning next season.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.