Wide receiver struggles made entire team vulnerable

Kentucky safety Davonte Robinson, right, stops Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler (1) after a 41-yard gain just short of the goal line during the first half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

By CORY GIGER

For The Express

The receivers spoiled the season for Penn State.

It’s easy to just say, “they dropped a lot of passes,” which obviously hurt the team.

But it was so much more than that.

Connect the dots with me here.

The Nittany Lion offense was sensational the past two years because it could score from any point on the field in a hurry, most often with a big pass play setting everything up.

This year, though, the receivers simply were not reliable catching the ball, especially deep balls and 50-50 balls. They were pretty terrible, in fact, with about three dozen drops.

So, Trace McSorley lost faith in them.

He figured he would have to do everything himself.

Which led to him running the ball more and more.

Which inevitably led to him getting hurt, because he was asked to carry so much of the offensive burden that he simply could not do it all without taking lick after lick after lick.

And when McSorley did get hurt, the brilliant, explosive offense that we saw the past two seasons was gone. Poof. Vanished.

Perhaps, sadly, never to be seen again in Happy Valley. (More on that in a bit.)

Juwan Johnson was supposed to be a star receiver. He was a dud this year.

DeAndre Thompkins was supposed to take a big step forward as a senior. He went backwards.

Brandon Polk — wait, has anyone seen or heard from Brandon Polk? A senior, he didn’t catch a single pass the final seven games and barely even played. Maybe he was injured, but who really knows?

The Lions have an excellent young receiver in KJ Hamler, and Jahan Dotson showed good signs. Justin Shorter was supposed to be one of the greatest wide receiver recruits ever at PSU, but an early injury set him back and he had only two catches.

McSorley got used to throwing to guys like Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton the past couple of years, guys who ran great routes and caught everything. He could trust them on any throw, particularly the vital 50-50 balls.

When you take that element out of the equation, Penn State’s RPO offense is much, much easier to defend. It takes longer, sustained drives to score touchdowns, and those are harder to come by because of a random penalty or tough third-down situation killing promising drives.

Without extremely reliable receivers, a quarterback in the current Penn State offense will always be put into the same predicament McSorley was put into this year. He’s going to have to run too often, which means he’s going to take a lot of hits, and then it’s inevitable that he’s going to get banged up somehow.

In short, Penn State’s offense got exposed this season. Joe Moorhead was gone and Saquon Barkley was gone, so it was always going to be tougher to succeed. Then, when the receivers couldn’t catch balls, first-year coordinator Ricky Rahne had no idea how to fix it all.

McSorley doesn’t get off the hook here. He was not accurate this season. But goodness, expecting him to be after he had to do all of the heavy lifting for the offense was simply too much to ask.

COMMENTS