Twelve Days — WR

Our 12 days of Christmas breakdown of the Penn State football team continues with another one of the most troubled areas for the Nittany Lions in 2004. We present this on X-Mas day because the team is bringing in several gifted newcomers at the position.


MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: Let’s see, here. Penn State’s leading receiver last season was a running back (Tony Hunt). And its second-leading receiver was a part-time quarterback (Michael Robinson). And its third-leading receiver was a tight end (Issac Smolko). And the team’s two quarterbacks (Robinson and starter Zack Mills) had more touchdown catches between them (four) than all of the full-time wideouts combined (three).

Anyone get the feeling it was another bad year for the pass-catchers in Happy Valley? In the past decade, the Nittany Lions have had exactly one first-team All-Big Ten wideout (Bryant Johnson in 2002).

Can’t blame the coaching here. Mike McQueary was in his first season at the position, and wasn’t exactly left with a full cupboard of talent. The starters in the season-opener — Gerald Smith and Terrance Phillips — combined for 29 catches and one TD.

Freshman Mark Rubin made a splash midway through the season, coming out of a redshirt to catch 11 passes in three games. But once opponents caught on to his act, he was held to four grabs the rest of the way. Redshirt frosh Terrell Golden showed flashes of excellence, but no consistency.

Outside of Robinson, who doubled as a quarterback, no one could outfight a defensive back for a ball. And no one in the receiving corps had the type of speed needed to gain separation in the secondary.

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: Phillips looked terrific in the spring. But he couldn’t hold on to the ball when it mattered.

WHO WAS NICE: Robinson. By now it is obvious he’s been mishandled by the coaching staff. But the fifth-year senior-to-be has been nothing but a team player throughout his difficult career.

UNDER THE TREE: McQueary, the new recruiting coordinator who doubles as the team’s receivers coach, went wild with gifts for himself. Incoming recruits Derrick Williams and Justin King (we’re guessing you’ve heard of them) are both enrolling for the spring semester and are intent on making an immediate impact. With speed on the edge and great instincts in space, watch for it to happen with at least one of them. King may start his career at cornerback.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Move Robinson here for good. Let him teach the future stars — Rubin, Williams, (possibly) King and others — the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed at this level.

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