With Offensive Struggles In Tow, Growth Desperately Needed For Parker Washington & KeAndre Lambert-Smith

Penn State football star Jahan Dotson was Penn State’s only 1,000-yard receiver this season, and was the first of that kind for the program since Chris Godwin in 2015.

The Nazareth, Pa. native couldn’t be of service to James Franklin’s team on Saturday in the Outback Bowl as he prepares for the NFL Draft. It’s no secret that Mike Yurcich’s offense sorely missed the guy who made 91 catches for it this fall.

“We had a couple big plays in the first half. We weren’t consistent enough, but we made some big plays,” Franklin said postgame. “We didn’t make those plays in the second half. We had some opportunities, dropped some balls.”

The opportunity lay with sophomores Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith to replace Dotson’s production. As Franklin noted, the pair did have promising starts to their days against the Razorbacks. Washington opened his stint with a 42-yard connection from Sean Clifford, and followed that up with two more substantial gains through the air. The sophomore’s top catch of the day was this ridiculous one-handed snag.

As for Lambert-Smith, the Norfolk, Va. native gave reason for Nittany Lion fans to get out of their seats with his wide-open touchdown.

That was one of the only moments Penn Staters could cheer for at a muggy Raymond James Stadium, however. The Nittany Lions’ offense sputtered for much of the day, thanks in large part to untimely turnovers and quite simply an inability to execute on plays. In the second half, Washington made just one catch worth more than 10 yards while Lambert-Smith had one grab worth zero yards.

Washington clearly served as the second-best wideout on Penn State’s offense for the entirety of this season, and he managed to showcase glimpses Saturday of what he can do as the top option entering 2022. If Franklin’s thoughts on the Texas sophomore are any indication, the pressure is on for him to be the man.

“Yeah, Parker, I think you guys see, there’s a lot to be excited about in his future,” Franklin said. “Got tremendous ball skills. He’s smart. He can make people miss. He’s built more like a tailback than he is a [wide receiver], which I think helps him in a lot of different situations.”

The talented wideout was Penn State’s leading receiver on Saturday, but he and Lambert-Smith will absolutely need to grow from this afternoon if Yurcich’s offense is going to take any jump forward in 2022. Even with Dotson’s historic season, the Nittany Lions were middle-of-the-road in the Big Ten with 380.8 offensive yards per game this year.

Both sophomores believe that the end to this season was the start of that development into a dominant duo.

“I’m gonna miss the seniors, but I mean next year, and this offseason we’re gonna hit it hard,” Lambert-Smith said. “I’m ready to change the narrative of the Penn State wideout room, and I feel like we’re gonna be pretty special…We produce receivers and we’ve got good ball players that go to Penn State.”

Lambert-Smith further added that stepping into a leadership role among the wide receivers and the rest of the offense isn’t something that will come as a challenge for him. As for Washington, who made 57 catches for 722 yards and four touchdowns this fall, that development started during Dotson’s absence this past week.

“I just felt like I had to get more vocal. Just having those older guys in the room and seeing them go, we have to have that next man-up mentality,” Washington said. “I feel like I came out of my shell a little bit more this week. It was a great opportunity and I feel like I should build on that more.”

There’s no doubt the potential is there for the young pass-catchers. They both put together solid second years in Happy Valley and arrived to college football as four-star recruits in the Class of 2020.

Despite all of the potential and success as secondary options behind Dotson, there are expectations that have yet to be met. The Nittany Lions are now 11-11 over their past two seasons, and inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball have largely haunted the program since 2020.

Saturday’s Outback Bowl was hardly a positive to way to finish the first season of Yurcich’s offense. Penn State’s 323 total yards were well under what it averaged all season, and many of the same issues that the group faced all year remained against the Razorbacks. Despite all of that, the defeat was certainly a reminder of who the Nittany Lions will need to rely on in 2022.

As year two of the Yurcich era begins this spring, Penn State’s budding wideouts — who aren’t so young anymore — will face plenty of pressure.

“I feel like it’s just continuing to work and getting on the same page,” Washington said. “Next year we’ll still have our same [offensive coordinator]. That’ll be good to build because I haven’t got that since I’ve been here. I feel like that’ll be big for us, and we’ll be able to build on that.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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