MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The route won’t be remembered. The significance of the catch will. The loss will mean more to Allen Robinson and his teammates.
Penn State’s star receiver cut over the middle on an intermediate assignment, paused and tracked back toward Christian Hackenberg’s throw. He hauled it in – his sixth of seven catches on the afternoon – and became Penn State’s single-season receiving yardage leader.
The catch came on Penn State’s second to last drive in a 24-10 loss to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. That one, and a final 12-yarder on Penn State’s final drive, capped his seven-catch, 63-yard effort and pushed him to 1,106 yards this season. They pushed him to 1,106 yards — 22 more than Bobby Engram’s previous mark — with three games remaining.
“Records are great but we could care less about records,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “He played hard today and we weren’t able to get him the ball enough today probably. It’s disappointing. We’ve got three games left and we’ve got to continue to find ways to get him the ball.”
They could very well be the final three games of Robinson’s collegiate career. CBSSports.com currently ranks him as the 32nd-overall prospect who could be available in May’s NFL Draft.
To date, Robinson has only said he’d sit down with his family and coaches to decide his immediate future. Minnesota players were determined to keep Robinson out of the end zone and limit his impact as best they could.
To a degree, they succeeded. Robinson was double covered for much of the game. A safety sat in waiting over the top when No. 8 tried for deep routes. A nickelback spied his every move in obvious passing situations.
“Obviously going in he’s a guy that you need to know where he is at all times,” Minnesota cornerback Brock Vereen said. “And me and Eric (Murray) had the responsibility of guarding him. As a DB, you don’t always get acknowledged unless the ball is to your guy but I will say that Eric had the best game of any defensive player this entire year.”
Robinson turned in the two 12-yard catches and drew a late pass interference penalty in the end zone. But he could’ve done much more damage as he’s done in previous games this season.
The junior wideout had two 12-catch games and an 11-catch game coming into Saturday. His lowest output was three catches against Kent State when Penn State ran the ball 49 times.
“I don’t know how many plays he took but you can count them on one hand that there weren’t two people on him,” Minnesota acting head coach Tracy Claeys said. “Even if we didn’t have somebody directly over the top we had somebody spying him inside out.”
Zwinak returns to form
It had been a rough few weeks for Zach Zwinak but the junior running back bounced back after seeing limited action against Illinois for a 26-carry, 150-yard rushing game.
Zwinak scored Penn State’s lone touchdown to cap a drive he was instrumental on. His six-yard score ended a 75-yard drive in the first half. Zwinak picked up 61 of the team’s yards on that drive.
Most of them came via his typical, bruising style where he carried Minnesota tacklers with him after first contact.
“He ran the ball hard,” O’Brien said. “I thought he did a nice job. Tough kid. He ran the ball well.”
The third quarter evolved into a battle between Penn State punter Alex Butterworth and his Minnesota counterpart Peter Mortell as the Nittany Lions and Gophers waged a field-position battle.
Mortell and Butterworth traded punts that pinned their opponents deep in their own territories thanks to a few heads-up plays from their coverage teams.
Penn State was pinned on its own one and own two after 39- and 62-yard punts from Mortell. The Nittany Lions could not get out of their own end on either drive. Meanwhile, Butterworth hit a 36-yard punt to the Minnesota one that was downed by Eugene Lewis.
Both punters had to adjust to heavy winds that gusted up to 31 miles per hour throughout the game.
“It was a factor, definitely,” Mortell said. “Once we went out in pregame and figured out which direction it was coming from, where we should hit the punts, it got easier and I got more comfortable.”
Penn State avoids major injuries
Mike Hull was the victim of a chop block from Minnesota fullback Mike Henry in the first quarter and Robinson appeared to be shaken up after taking a hit behind the line of scrimmage on a screen pass in the third.
Both players were down momentarily while Hull stayed face down for over a minute as trainers were called out to check on him.
Hull appeared to hurt his right leg, the same one he injured against Syracuse. He missed only three plays and returned after being taped up.
“He’s a tough kid so the way he was face down on the turf there, I was nervous about that for the kid,” O’Brien said. “So I went out there. I hate injuries so I usually try to go out there and see how they’re doing.”
Hull returned to lead the team with nine tackles. Robinson returned to the sideline where his arms and shoulders were examined before he got back in the game and made two more catches and drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone.
O’Brien said he was unaware of any injury to Robinson.