Since the end of last season, Penn State wide receiver Saeed Blacknall has gained a better understanding of the game.
He now has a better grasp of why some plays were called in certain situations and why other plays were called against a specific defensive look.
“Last year, I could say sometimes I didn’t understand that,” Blacknall said. “I was just out there trying to play football.”
The receiver made a team-high five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in the Blue-White game Saturday at Beaver Stadium, contributing to a sharp performance in the Blue team’s 37-0 win.
DaeSean Hamilton finished with four catches for 67 yards, and Chris Godwin had three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown to lead the receiving corps on a day when quarterback Trace McSorley completed 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
Blacknall received the Red Worrell Award, given to the team’s most improved offensive player this spring.
Blacknall felt he improved mentally more than anything by the end of spring practice.
“Today, it was just vanilla,” Blacknall said. “Everything, I was just so comfortable. We all knew what we were doing.”
He made at least one catch on each of the Blue team’s first four drives.
He hauled in a 10-yard catch on the first drive, setting up a third-and-1. Mark Allen rushed for 13 yards to pick up the first down, and McSorley connected with Godwin for a 15-yard touchdown two plays later.
On the third drive, Blacknall beat cornerback Amani Oruwariye on a route to the corner of the end zone and adjusted to McSorley’s pass while Oruwariye tried to recover. Blacknall pulled in the 22-yard pass for a touchdown to give the Blue team a 16-0 lead with 9:24 left in the second quarter.
The play was a continuation of Blacknall’s standout spring performance.
“Saeed’s improved monumentally, honestly, just the way he comes out there,” Hamilton said. “His confidence has grown a lot. He’s going out there running great routes, making almost every catch. He went through spring probably with him and myself and Chris having the least amount of drops all spring.”
Blacknall made eight catches last year, while Hamilton finished with 45 and Godwin had 69.
But Blacknall impressed during the spring.
“I don’t know that he had more than five drops the entire spring and found a way to make a play when the ball went his way,” offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said of Blacknall. “He was able to do great on plays where he needed to get separation on underneath routes and when we threw it over the top, he was able to run by people.”
The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver is now pairing that athletic ability with a better feel for the game.
Part of his growth mentally, he said, has come with age. Blacknall, who has 19 career catches, is heading into his junior season.
He went into this spring looking to continue to grow as a player.
“Keep trying to take steps forward and not backwards,” Blacknall said.