James Franklin was worried about losing Allen Robinson.
During a teleconference last week he said as much with no hesitation.
“Offensively, I’m most concerned about replacing Allen Robinson and the production he provided,” he said then.
Franklin may be able to breathe a little easier after Saturday’s 26-24 thrilling victory over Central Florida which featured a breakout performance by one receiver, and a career day by a junior receiver now taking on a larger role.
Christian Hackenberg passed for 454 yards Saturday morning. 173 of those went to Geno Lewis, the junior receiver who made only four starts in 2013. Another 165 went to DaeSean Hamilton, a hitherto unknown redshirt freshmen who missed last season due to a wrist injury.
Lewis was the Nittany Lions’ leading returning receiver.
Consistently and without fail, Hackenberg found either Hamilton or Lewis when he needed it most: be it early in a sloppy first quarter or while marching down the field on the winning drive with less than a minute remaining in the game.
And on a game in which Penn State only rushed for 57 yards, their output was all the more needed.
Hackenberg featured Hamilton early, whose 11 receptions threatened Penn State’s single game reception record of 13. On Penn State’s first play in the first quarter, Hackenberg found the Fredericksburg native for eight yards. He kept it rolling, hitting the freshmen three more times in the first fifteen minutes, highlighted by a 44 yard bomb to the two yard line that set up Zwinak’s touchdown.
The sophomore quarterback completed five of his first six attempts to the redshirt receiver. Hamilton was the first Penn State freshman receiver with one hundred receiving yards in a game since Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood did the same in 2005.
But by the fourth quarter, with the Knights gaining momentum, it was the more experienced Lewis who saved the day for the Nittany Lions.
Lewis only tallied two receptions in the first half, but on a third and 17 with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter, Hackenberg tossed a bomb that landed directly in the 6-1 wideout’s hands. The 79 yard pass and catch was the longest play of the game, and looked to seal the game for Penn State as it extended the lead, 20-10.
But UCF rallied, and Lewis was called upon again to lead the Lions. Down 23-24 with 1:13 remaining, Hackenberg and Lewis connected four times on the game’s final drive.
And with 17 seconds to go, Lewis reeled in a slant rout, and carried multiple defenders out of bounds. The 18 yard reception set up Ficken’s game winning field goal.
Ficken won the game, but it was Lewis and Hamilton that set him up.