Penn State has one of the deepest, most talented receiving corps in the nation, but you sure wouldn’t have known it through the first two weeks of the season.
That started to change in the midst of Penn State’s 56-0 drubbing of Georgia State last Saturday where receivers had 12 of the teams’ 21 catches on the day. Saeed Blacknall made his first catch of the season and finished with three grabs for 64 yards and a touchdown while DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk all made receptions in the blowout.
While those numbers aren’t quite running back Saquon Barkley’s four catches for 142 yards and a score, it’s a marked improvement from the production -or lack there of- the team got from it’s actual receivers against Akron and Pittsburgh. The receiving group managed just six catches against Pitt but was better in the opener against Akron in accounting for 191 of Penn State’s 322 receiving yards.
There’s also the fact that talented non-receivers like Barkley and tight end Mike Gesicki are heavily involved in the Penn State offense and are the two biggest weapons the Nittany Lions possess on offense. Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead would be doing a disservice if he didn’t try to force feed those two the ball.
But where the receivers come into play is when teams load up to stop Barkley and have their secondary members pay extra attention to Gesicki and wherever he may line up. That leaves essentially one-on-one coverage for the likes of Hamilton, Blacknall, Johnson and Thompkins. Against lesser teams Penn State can get by without top-end production from their receivers, but they won’t be as lucky against teams like say…Iowa this weekend.
The Hawkeyes were embarrassed 41-14 on the road at Beaver Stadium a year ago while surrendering 599 total yards to the Nittany Lions. Penn State hit Iowa hard on the ground, churning up 359 rushing yards and averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
Like most teams will attempt this season, the Hawkeyes will try to stack the box against Barkley and make Trace McSorley and the passing game beat them. Only in addition they’ll try to limit Gesicki, who hauled in four catches for 65 yards in the meeting a season ago. Helping their cause is that Chris Godwin is in the NFL and only two other Penn State receivers had catches (2) against the Hawkeyes in that game.
If Iowa can use their normally strong front seven to neutralize the Penn State rushing attack, it might be up to the receivers and McSorley to beat the Hawkeyes through the air. As weeks go by and Mike Gesicki proves to be the real deal and garner more attention from defenses the onus will start to fall on the receivers outside to make plays and keep the chains moving for the offense.
Penn State has an explosive offense, and yards can come from just about anywhere, but they haven’t been coming consistently from the receiving group just yet and that’ll need to change if the Lions want to keep their offensive juggernaut rolling in 2017.