UNIVERSITY PARK — Allen Robinson led the Big Ten in catches, receptions per game, receiving yards and touchdowns last season. However, one play motivated the Penn State wide receiver throughout the offseason.
After a school-record 77 catches and just the third 1,000-yard receiving season in school history, still, one play stuck in his craw.
“The first third-down against Ohio State,” Robinson said at the team’s Media Day on Thursday.
The play seems innocuous enough: Third-and-3 from the Penn State 33-yard line in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Matt McGloin’s pass to Robinson fell incomplete, and even though Alex Butterworth’s ensuing punt netted just 24 yards, the Nittany Lions’ defense held firm.
The Buckeyes eventually won 35-23 and snapped the Lions’ five-game win streak, but to Robinson, the incompletion was one play that got away.
“That’s one play that I think I could have made that could have changed how that game was (or) the impact on that game,” he said. “It was a ball that was thrown out there for me to make a play and I wasn’t able to come down with that so I think in a situation like that, in a big game like that … that’s a play that I definitely have to make this year.”
Robinson’s workouts may have been fueled by that mentality this summer, but that’s merely the beginning of the mental approach he will need as opposing defenses likely narrow their gaze to slow the 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver this season.
After 1,013 receiving yards, 6.4 catches per game and 11 touchdowns, undoubtedly conference coaches spent time in the offseason focused on Robinson, which will mean more attention in his junior year.
The 19-year-old, who was the Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver-of-the-Year and named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media, seems to keep it all in perspective.
“I would say I could even have a better season without having better numbers,” Robinson said. “Just as far as the things that I do and how I impact the game.
“I can’t control how many times I get the ball or how the defenses try to defend me, but as far as getting open and getting some (yards after catch) after I catch the ball. (There are) just some different things that I can do.”
Coach Bill O’Brien will do his part schematically, lining up Robinson “all over the map this year” to create various looks from scrimmage, but the second-year PSU coach also said other offensive threats must emerge.
“Part of the added attention that (Robinson) will receive … is the fact that we have other guys that can catch the football,” O’Brien said. “We’ve obviously got some talented tight ends and guys in the backfield that can catch the ball. So we have to get the ball to those positions a little bit more too and not just depend on Allen all the time.”
Junior tight end Kyle Carter finished second on the team in receptions (36) as a sophomore before a wrist injury at No. 18 Nebraska ended his season.
Jesse James paid immediate dividends as a true freshman, finishing second in receiving touchdowns with five, which tied a school record for tight ends with Bob Parsons (1971) and Dan Natale (1972).
Graduate student Matt Lehman added three more scores at tight end, which gave the team 10 at a high-profile position in O’Brien’s offense.
Quarterback play will also figure prominently, but no matter which one delivers the ball, Robinson will have to stay engaged and stave off frustration if opportunities are scarce.
“I have to be patient and have to look at the bigger picture,” Robinson said. “If I have two or three catches I have to make sure that those two or three catches impact the game. Even if I’m not having 10 catches like I did some games last year … if we win at the end of the day that’s the bigger picture. That’s what we’re all here for.”
If the wideout’s targets are sparse, it will likely mean increased chances elsewhere and benefits for other receivers.
Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder could be one of those guys. Described by receivers coach Stan Hixon as “probably more technician than speed,” Moseby-Felder’s 31 catches were third-best last season.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Moseby-Felder said. “On the offensive side we have a lot of great young talent at the skill positions.”
Moseby-Felder’s optimism not withstanding, Penn State’s receiving corps is young. Of the team’s 272 total catches last year, only 38 came from returning wideouts not named Moseby-Felder or Robinson, which includes 10 from Trevor Williams, who is now a starting cornerback.
For Robinson though, success is simple — capitalize on opportunities.
“The Big Ten game against Ohio State was on (television) a few days ago,” he said. “It was so hard for me to watch that just knowing that there were plays that I could have made.”
If he continues to demand that level of accountability from himself and stays patient, just how far can Robinson go?
“There’s no limit,” said Hixon, who also coached at Louisiana State. “He can be as good as he wants to be. I compare him to some guys I’ve had before. With his height, size and speed he reminds me of a guy I had at LSU named Michael Clayton, who was the 15th-pick in the draft to Tampa Bay (2004). He could be even better, but he has to continue to work on it. He’s not there yet. He’s good, but he can be a lot better.”