Penn State Football’s Wide Receiver Room Erases Several Preseason Question Marks In Showing Against West Virginia

Prior to Penn State football’s season-opening battle against West Virginia, perhaps the primary concern regarding the Nittany Lions’ roster makeup stemmed from youth and inexperience at wide receiver, especially coupled with a first-year signal caller commanding the backfield.

Before James Franklin’s attack was able to take its first snap of the campaign, early surprises lingered on the outside as redshirt sophomore pass-catcher Liam Clifford warranted the starting slot role in favor of Omari Evans and Kent State transfer Dante Cephas.

However, following a clinical receiving effort defined by selflessness and harmony against the Mountaineers’ adrift secondary, Marques Hagans’ previously glaring hole at the position has since shrunk and paved the way for substantial optimism.

With sophomore Drew Allar making his long-anticipated debut as the team’s starting quarterback, nine players hauled in receptions for a total of 332 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Of those nine, six were wide receivers.

The array ranged from bonafide burner KeAndre Lambert-Smith, the junior who embarked on his fourth year in Happy Valley as the clearcut returner in previously-established production, to Malik McClain, a highly-touted junior who scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in his blue and white debut upon transferring from Florida State.

While initially unexpected, the instant mesh point between Allar and his expansive stable of weapons not only clears up previous doubt in the Nittany Lions’ passing potential, but it also provides excitement about the possibility of Penn State thriving on balance, rather than strictly wearing down opponents with its ground attack.

“The relationship with the receivers as a whole is really good,” Allar said. “Obviously, this summer was huge for us. I remember talking back in the spring about how big it was going to be. I think it really paid off with all the work that we put in through fall camp.”

In turn, Allar’s relationship with Penn State’s wide receivers benefitted the nine-man group’s confidence perhaps just as much as it did for him gaining any semblance of personal rhythm.

“I can definitely say this helps everybody with confidence because the whole room is getting the ball,” redshirt sophomore Trey Wallace said. “I feel like everybody getting catches today is going to have us more prepared for the season, because it won’t be everyone’s first time.”

“It shows the offense that the receivers are dependable,” Lambert-Smith added. “We’re not just a run-heavy team.”

Penn State’s complex, multi-dimensional scheme complicated rotations within West Virginia’s zone, as predicting which weapon or area of the field Allar would knife through next gradually became tougher to gauge.

“It’s kind of hard to defend everybody,” Wallace said.

As the matchup progressed, the Nittany Lions’ air-raid display wore down Neal Brown’s group in a war of attrition, after he and his defense initially game-planned to load the box, drop three defenders, and force Penn State to pick up yardage through trench domination.

While the Mountaineers limited the combination of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen and the remainder of Penn State’s ground unit to just 146 total yards, the Mountaineers were battered and burned by a passing-catching group with two first-time starters.

Moreover, Lambert-Smith admitted after postgame that he didn’t think the Mountaineers paid him enough attention on the outside, despite waltzing into the end zone for the campaign’s first score.

Although the Virginia native compiled a game-high 123 receiving yards on seven receptions, his breakout performance wasn’t necessarily unexpected given his deemed “Big Play Dre” alter-ego within the Lasch Building’s confines.

However, given Lambert-Smith’s counterpart’s ability to shift through the second level in aid of Allar’s inexperience, it appears several more “big play” weapons could morph into formidable forces before conference play commences.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a senior journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland. He's an avid D.C sports fan and loves going to games in his free time. Nolan mainly writes about Penn State football, men's hockey, and baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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