Bombs Away vs. Cincy

After going out of style for more than two years, the big play is back in vogue at Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions used a pair of third-quarter Michael Robinson bombs to blow open Saturday's game against Cincinnati at Beaver Stadium, and cruised to a 42-24 victory.

It was a refreshing change for PSU, whose offense ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in each of the last two years.

“I think that's exactly what's been our problem,” Lion coach Joe Paterno said. “We've had to eke out everything and we have not been quite that good.”

Midway through 2004, Paterno said he felt the team was only a couple of game-breakers away from returning to national prominence. He got them when he signed Justin King and Derrick Williams in the Class of 2005.

But even after King and Williams came on board, Robinson admitted he wasn't sure Paterno's plan would work. “I was leery at first, but we got in a 7-on-7 skeleton drill [in January] and me and Derrick hooked up for a 50-yard touchdown. I was like, oh my God.”

Which was pretty much the reaction of the Penn State crowd Saturday.

Up 14-3 and with the offense struggling early in the third quarter, Robinson unleashed a rocket down the right sideline to King. King out-jumped corner Mike Mickens for the ball, high-stepped to avoid tangling feet and raced into the end zone.

On State's next play from scrimmage, Robinson went deep down the left sideline. This time Williams laid out for a 41-yard diving catch. In the fourth quarter, Robinson hooked up with redshirt freshman Deon Butler for a 45-yard score.

By comparison, Penn State's longest pass play last season was 49 yards. Its second-longest pass was 39 yards. The Lions ranked last in the Big Ten with only 5.6 yards per pass attempt. No full-time wideout had more than 20 catches or one TD.

As a result, teams stacked the line with eight and nine men. Cincinnati tried that early Saturday, but eventually had to stop.

“You beat them a couple of times, and they aren't going to blitz anymore,” guard Tyler Reed said.

“We just haven't had the guys on the outside to get off the bump and run,” Robinson added.

Now they do. As true freshmen, King and Williams are off limits to the press. So Butler served as the spokesman for the group in post-game, and said confidence is one of the keys to its success.

“After working the whole spring with our defense and knowing they're one of the better defenses in the country … once we started getting big plays on them in practice, we were like, we can do this,” Butler said.

The Lions should be able to do it in the non-conference finale against Central Michigan next week, too. Then it is on to the Big Ten, where the challenge figures to be that much greater. But Butler believes the PSU secondary will have the young receiving corps ready for action.

“They're definitely preparing us for Big Ten play,” Butler said. “They're physical … their games are so complete that they just show us everything we're probably going to face.”

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