Robinson High on Galen Hall

Fifth-year senior gives props to the coordinator for reviving Penn State's offense. But will the Nittany Lions continue to generate the yards and points now that the Big Ten portion of the schedule has arrived?

Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson knows what it means to find a comfort zone. In his first full season as the man at the position for the Nittany Lions, he struggled through his first game and a half before settling into a rhythm and exploding.

As a result, the fifth-year senior ranks third in the Big Ten and eighth nationally in pass efficiency (176.1) heading into this week's conference opener at Northwestern. And as Robinson has excelled, so too has the PSU offense, which is cranking out 35 points and 422 yards per game.

Though those numbers (and a 3-0 record) came against a less-than-killer non-conference slate, they were a huge improvement from 2004, just the same. Last year, State was the conference laggard in scoring offense (17.7 ppg) and total offense (310.7 ygp). The difference, according to Robinson, is that another member of the program has found his comfort zone, too: second-year offensive coordinator Galen Hall.

“That's basically a tribute to Galen Hall,” Robinson said Wednesday morning. “He did a lot of work in the off-season trying to mix things up with the play-calling and formations and trying to get the same look out of different formations to make it easier on the quarterbacks and young receivers.”

Those young receivers have been a key, too, with athletes like Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Justin King providing the collective home-run threat the offense lacked the past two seasons. An offensive line that is slowly but surely improving has helped, as well, as has a better sideline operation.

Michael Robinson.

And that's a big change from 2003 and 2004, when then-quarterback Zack Mills often complained that the sideline circus resulted in plays coming in late. Robinson acknowledged that things are “a lot smoother” now.

“Galen is getting a lot more comfortable with our play-calling system and players and things like that,” he added. “I think some of the problems last year were, we call some of our things a little different than what he's accustomed to, and it kind of confused him a little bit. You get accustomed to a certain system so long, and you come to our system and it's a little different. I think the fact that he's adjusted so well has made things faster overall.”

Adjusting to new situations is not unique for Hall, a Penn State quarterback in the late 1950s and early '60s who went on to coach at the collegiate level and in practically every professional league. He has headed up offenses known for record-setting running games (Oklahoma in the 1970s) and record-setting passing games (Florida in the 1980s).

Not surprisingly, Robinson said he has been able to tap into that vast reserve of football expertise.

“I know for me, whenever I talk to him, he really helps me with my reads as far as shrinking the field down,” Robinson reported. “At first, I used to try to see the entire field all at once, all the time. Sometimes, when it comes to certain reads, you have to shrink the field down, look at a certain point, look at a certain player or defender, and make your read off that instead of constantly having to look over the entire field every single play. With him helping me with that, it's made things a lot easier.

“I always saw the read that he was talking about,” the quarterback added. “But it might have been a point where I just wasn't focusing there. He made some things so much easier for me. They were things Jay was trying to tell me all the time, but sometimes I might not have listened or sometimes you get in a game and you forget.”

Jay, of course, is often maligned PSU quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno. While Robinson went out of is way to praise Hall and receivers coach Mike McQueary (another former Lion QB) for helping his improvement, he also made a point of sticking up for his position coach.

“He can't go out on the field and play the game for us,” Robinson said. “People get that confused. Just because he's the quarterbacks coach and I throw an interception, he's not the guy out there making the decision. A lot of times when I throw an interception I know I messed up. It's not on Jay. He's gotten a lot of unfair criticism because of things like that. But he hasn't changed. He's definitely working hard. He's trying to make us better as an offense and team. He's doing a great job.”

This week will offer the best evidence yet of how well Penn State's offensive brain trust is performing. Northwestern (2-1) may have given up 773 yards in a 52-21 loss at Arizona State last weekend. But this same Wildcat team held the Nittany Lions to seven points in each of the last two meetings between the two teams.

“We have had some success these first couple of games,” Robinson said. “But our season gets started this weekend, really.”


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