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Penn State Football’s Wide Receivers Final Piece Of Puzzle Against Michigan

It’s been a long season for Penn State football’s wideouts.

From August, the wide receiver unit has been the Nittany Lions’ weak point, and while its had peaks and valleys over the course of the year, the wide receiver room hasn’t seemed to figure out its many issues. With Michigan on the horizon, Penn State will need its pass catchers to step up in ways they haven’t yet in just a few days.

From the start of the season, Penn State’s wide receiver corps struggled heavily. It wasn’t a massive shock — the group couldn’t seem to name its top three contributors, much less its top six. It had KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Trey Wallace as its top two options, but past that, the wide receiver room seemed to be a random mesh of Liam Clifford, Omari Evans, Malik McClain, and others. Wide receivers coach Marques Hagans would try different options in each game, appearing just to throw anything against the wall. Nothing helped.

It didn’t help when Trey Wallace went down against Delaware with an injury that sidelined him for several games. It certainly didn’t help when Wallace, shortly after his return to action, went down with another injury against Ohio State.

With Wallace down for the count, James Franklin needed a playmaker. In Penn State’s moment of pure desperation, with Michigan on the horizon, in stepped Dante Cephas. The Kent State transfer had been quiet all season but exploded against Maryland. Drew Allar’s lifting partner seemed to have plenty of chemistry with his quarterback, as Cephas recorded two beautiful touchdown catches and 53 receiving yards. It was the game that the receivers and Allar needed.

But even with Cephas on the scene, Franklin still needs more from his receiving group. Assuming Wallace will still be injured for the Nittany Lions’ battle with Michigan, just having Lambert-Smith and Cephas against the Wolverines won’t be enough.

“We have to continue building on that, not only this week, but then also on Saturday,” Franklin said at his press conference Monday. “We need some other guys to step up as well. We need KeAndre to take the next step, Dante, the tight ends to take the next step, because we’re going to have to make some plays in the passing game. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”

It won’t help Penn State that the Wolverines may just have the best passing defense the Nittany Lions have seen all year. Michigan is the top team in the country for passing defense, giving up just 141.3 yards per game through the air, per CFBstats. That’s around 15 yards better than the Ohio State group that made a percentage of the Penn State fanbase question Allar’s talent.

However, the Nittany Lions will have one wild card in the passing game: Allar might be unlocked. There were whispers that the Indiana game was all that the young quarterback needed to turn his season around, and Allar seemed to confirm that theory when speaking with the media a week later after he demolished Maryland.

Against the Terrapins, Allar was spectacular. His passing yardage didn’t jump off the sheets, but those 240 yards and four touchdowns were a sight to see. He spread the ball around the field, finding Cephas for two touchdowns and tight ends Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson for the other two. Something within Allar just seems ready to go.

No matter how good Allar looks, no matter if the defense plays as lockdown as fans have become accustomed to, no matter how incredible the running backs and the tight ends play Saturday, the game could come down to Penn State’s hole in the wide receivers group. Against the No. 3 team in the country, the Nittany Lions will have to iron out each and every issue. It starts with the wideouts.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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