UNIVERSITY PARK — Allen Robinson and James Ross III spent a lot of time on football fields together at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep in Michigan.
The two former teammates got a chance to catch up as both Penn State and No. 18 Michigan were idle two weeks ago. Robinson returned home briefly where he met up with his old buddy before returning back to State College.
Later this week, Ross will make the trip to Happy Valley where the two friends will meet again. This time, they’ll butt heads at Beaver Stadium where Ross, a linebacker for the Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 1-0) will be tasked, along with Michigan’s secondary, with obstructing Robinson — Penn State’s standout playmaker.
Good luck with that.
No one has been able to slow Robinson, who’s accounted for nearly 30 percent of his team’s offense and is on pace to catch 91 passes for 1,490 yards this season.
“He’s a guy that you have to give him a lot of credit for the year he’s having,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s done a really, really good job to date, this year.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan defense hasn’t yet established a level of consistency its players expect from themselves.
“There are times when we go out there and I feel like nobody can get a yard on us,” Ross said. “But there’s times that we give up certain plays that shouldn’t be given up. That’s just because a lack of focus on one play that can hurt us. And I feel like if we all key in on every single play, I feel like we are a great defense.”
But the Wolverines, while they’ve held teams to just 90 yards per game rushing on average, have been highly susceptible to passing attacks. Michigan is surrendering on average 214 passing yards per game and all seven touchdowns the Wolverines have given up have come through the air.
And with Robinson split out, Penn State has been able to stretch the field this season. The Nittany Lions have executed 13 passing plays of 25 yards or more with eight of those going to Robinson.
But Penn State’s deep threat was nearly derailed when he crashed to the turf at Indiana’s Memorial Field after trying to reel in his third touchdown pass of that game. Robinson landed hard on his back before rolling over on his belly and taking his helmet off. He stayed down for a few moments before walking off without assistance.
He returned to the game and said Wednesday he expects to be 100 percent against Michigan. Even if he wasn’t, his teammates are inclined to think he’d still be a valuable piece for the Nittany Lions.
“He is definitely playing better than he did last year,” safety Malcolm Willis said.
Robinson, who turned in the finest season by a Penn State receiver in history when he broke the single season record for receptions previously shared by Bobby Engram and O.J. McDuffie by 14 catches, was named the Big Ten’s best wideout for his efforts.
Although he snagged 77 catches, Robinson came up just 71 yards shy of Engram’s single-season mark of 1,084 yards, however. But if Robinson continues on his current pace Engram’s record, set in 1994, will belong to him too. He should also snap his own single-season receptions record in the process.
While it’s shaping up to be a season for the record books, Robinson’s performances have him primed to make an early jump to the NFL should he choose.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior is on pace to graduate in December — five months before May’s NFL Draft — and is projected as high as a second-round pick by CBSSports.com. Robinson, who is rated the sixth-best wideout that could be available, would have to abandon his senior season at Penn State to enter the draft.
He’s not even thinking about that right now. Instead, Robinson said he’ll talk it over with his family at the end of the season. He’s focused on the Michigan defense. A loss to Indiana is plenty of motivation. Robinson said he needs not think about a possible pro career and isn’t bent on revenge after the Wolverines failed to recruit him as they did his friend Ross.
“That’s not something that I continue to think about on a daily basis,” Robinson said. “This is a big game that we’re playing on Saturday, so I know I’m going to have to have a big performance to help my team. So that’s something that we’ve been talking about with the team. Everybody has to show up and when you’re number’s called you have to make plays.”
So far, Robinson hasn’t disappointed each time No. 8 comes up.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.