UNIVERSITY PARK — Geno Lewis had a breakout game in his first outing as a Nittany Lion. In his 10th game on Saturday, Lewis broke a two-game catchless streak.
And while his three-catch for 19-yard performance was far quieter than his debut, in which he caught two balls for 62 yards and a deep touchdown against Syracuse, Lewis was able to contribute in plenty of ways. He’s finding that he has to in order to earn more playing time.
“When they call my name I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to the best of my ability,” Lewis said.
Usually behind junior Allen Robinson and senior Brandon Felder in the wideout rotation, Lewis got to play an increased number of snaps as Felder saw his playing time limited. Not only did Lewis run routes and catch passes out of the slot and split out, he continues to be Penn State’s go-to kick returner, was targeted in the red zone and was a factor in the running game, too.
Lewis, who has 18 kick returns for 397 yards this season, returned two for 44 against the Boilermakers. He helped Zach Zwinak extend runs with timely, and forceful, downfield blocks.
Lewis cut toward the middle of the field and lowered his pads on Purdue safety Anthony Brown to spring Zwinak for nearly five more yards on a 16-yard run on second-and-five in the first quarter. On the very next play, Lewis went shoulder-to-shoulder with Brown again and drove him backward to keep Zwinak’s 10-yard run going.
In the second quarter, Lewis introduced himself to Purdue’ cornerback Ricardo Allen. It was first down from Purdue’s 22-yard line and Lewis fired off the ball, drove Allen further down the field and Zwinak chugged past for five more yards. Lewis added a nice seal block to spark an eight-yard pickup from Allen Robinson on a screen pass.
But Lewis’ youth showed on a few plays, too. In the third quarter with Penn State in the red zone, he took a tongue lashing from head coach Bill O’Brien after Lewis was left uncovered in the slot. Hackenberg threw to Lewis’s back shoulder on a fade in the first half but Allen — a four-year starter for the Boilermakers — was able to keep him from hauling in what would’ve been Lewis’s second career touchdown catch.
Lewis realizes it is part of the learning process, something he’s tried to take advantage of while he’d spent more time watching recently.
He’s also been in contact with Robinson, Felder and Penn State’s other receivers constantly on the sideline.
“I’ve played here and there and more in other games but at those times I’ve got to be a leader and if I see something that they’re not seeing, I’m going to tell them,” Lewis said. “Or watching them running their routes and what they’re seeing. I’m being patient and just waiting for my time and my opportunity.”
Penn State’s offense has morphed into a dangerously efficient, thunderously effective rushing machine.
Seventy-two percent of Penn State’s calls against Purdue were running plays and the Nittany Lions added 289 rushing yards to bring their three-game total to 729 yards. It’s the biggest three-game total in conference competition since the 2005 team piled up 804 yards in straight games against Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who lines up against Penn State’s offensive linemen daily, could see this coming
“They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and you can tell that with a couple of practices,” Jones said. “They’re flying off the ball trying to knock your heads off and you can tell they’re going to go into these games and play as physical as possible.”
It was no different against the Boilermakers. Penn State linemen consistently won individual battles at the line of scrimmage and ran their Purdue opponents to the ground on multiple occasions.
Penn State linemen tallied 13 pancake blocks. Right guard John Urschel turned in four while left guard Miles Dieffenbach manhandled his opponent three times. Center Ty Howle added a pancake and right tackle Adam Gress notched three. Left tackle Donovan Smith had two pancakes and at one point nearly put a Purdue player into the first row of the student section.
Smith sprinted down the field to pave the way for an eight-yard run from Zwinak in the third quarter. He locked up safety Anthony Brown and pushed him off the field and through a row of spectators along the sideline before the whistle blew. Smith’s block helped set up a five-yard Zwinak touchdown run on the next play.
Save for Sam Ficken’s 29-yard field goal and his shoestring tackle to save a kickoff return touchdown, it was a rough afternoon for Penn State’s special teams units.
The kickoff coverage team gave up a 100-yard return touchdown late in the first half and allowed Akeem Hunt to return it 37 yards before Ficken made a diving stop. Purdue averaged 29 yards per kick return.
“We’ve got to go back to work on Monday to get that fixed,” O’Brien said. “Charles London does a great job with that team and maybe we’ve got to replace some guys. Get some guys in there who are a little bit hungrier so we’ve got to fix that.”
The punt return team allowed Purdue to convert a fourth-and-nine with a fake punt in the fourth quarter.
Another game. Another fumble lost by a Penn State running back.
Bill Belton lost his second fumble in as many games when Purdue’s Greg Latta poked it out of his left arm in the second quarter. It marked the fifth-straight game in which a Penn State running back has put the ball on the ground. Lewis lost a fumble on a kick return against Indiana.
Zwinak, who began wearing gloves against Illinois, nearly coughed up the ball in the fourth but was down by contact before the ball was jarred loose.
“I just told them the reason I get frustrated on the sideline when we fumble the ball is because I have high expectations for the players on this team,” O’Brien said. “We’ll continue to work with it. You don’t want to overemphasize it because then you have the guy thinking about it all the time but we have to stop putting the ball on the ground.”
Day to Remember
Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg were two premier recruits at the most visible positions in arguably the most mentally tested recruiting classes in Penn State history.
But they stuck together, remained committed to playing at Penn State and connected for their first touchdown pass-and-catch on Saturday. It was Breneman’s first touchdown and one he said he’d never forget.
“It feels good,” Breneman said. “I went over to Hack right after the play. I said, ‘We’ve sure been through a lot together.’ It’s been a long road and it was definitely exciting to me.’”
Day to Forget
Danny Etling has been beaten up in his first five games at Purdue. He continued to experienced the literal growing pains of a struggling FBS team.
Etling had little time to throw and not much room to move around in the pocket. He was sacked six times and hit a handful more. He tossed an interception and fumbled twice.
You Already Forgot
Glenn Carson set the tone for his defense on Purdue’s second offensive play.
Etling dropped back and Carson came flying up the middle and drilled the true freshman quarterback as he released the ball. As the fans inside Beaver Stadium let out a collective gasp at the hit, a wide-open B.J. Knauf appeared to lose the deep pass in the sun which was directly overhead in the sky.
As Etling was takend down, his pass fell incomplete and Purdue would boot away its first punt of the game.
“Who’s Case Keenum?” — O’Brien on the undrafted quarterback for the Houston Texans who started Sunday’s games against the Oakland Raiders, a game Matt McGloin started in and completed 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Huskers up next
Game time for Saturday’s Senior Day game against Nebraska at Beaver Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised by BTN.