Junior wide-receiver Saeed Blacknall hasn’t had his number called much this year despite preseason hype that led most to believe 2016 could be his breakout season. Unfortunately, the numbers didn’t come as expected. With one game left in his junior season, Blacknall’s only seen 65 targets all year — but that’s where this story begins.
Blacknall was a highly recruited receiver out of Manalapan High School in New Jersey fielding offers from Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan among others. The former four-star recruit stands in at 6-foot-3, 212 lbs, and almost immediately expectations to produce followed him.
Coming into this season, the New Jersey native was supposed to compliment DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin as the final piece of a dangerous Penn State receiving trio, but that wasn’t the case after Blacknall was sidelined early in the season. The junior wound up missing five games which significantly limited his on-field production for a player whose career totals had seemingly underwhelmed.
Heading into last weekend’s Big Ten Championship showdown against Wisconsin, Blacknall is the last person anyone would’ve have expected to turn in a record-setting performance and completely change the outcome. If it wasn’t for Trace McSorley playing out of his mind (22-31, 384 yards, four touchdowns) then one could’ve made a strong case for Blacknall getting the game’s MVP honors.
Anyone who previously doubted his skill set or ability quickly quieted down when he finished the game with six receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Each of his two touchdowns were plays that swung momentum in favor of the Lions. His first score of the day came on a simple curl route where the Wisconsin defender overran Blacknall while attempting to come back and make the tackle — allowing the speedy junior to take it 40 yards to the house. His second touchdown of the day kept the ball rolling in the third quarter for Penn State after the Badgers missed a 48-yard field goal on their first possession of the second half. The following play Blacknall was sent on what seemed to be a deep post across the middle when Trace McSorely under threw him. This allowed Blacknall to adjust beautifully and subsequently break safety D’cota Dixon’s ankles as he passed by en route to the end zone.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but Blacknall finally seemed to come into his own. He’s made big plays in the past, but no play could ever top his performance in Indianapolis on Saturday night. “For me to come back and contribute again and do what I can and put my piece of the puzzle, it means everything,” Blacknall said after the game.
Though his team’s victory wasn’t enough to entice the Playoff selection committee, he understands the Rose Bowl is no mere compensation — there’s a reason it’s the Granddaddy of Them All. “It’s a win-win,” Blacknall said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Come Jan. 2 when Penn State squares off with USC, expect Blacknall to continue this wave of momentum and enjoy another breakout game. USC ranks No. 62 nationally in total pass defense while the Lions rank No. 26 in total passing offense. In short, something has to give, and with Blacknall riding high, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again on the biggest stage.