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Penn State Football: As Spring Ends, Downfield Threat Still A Question, But Not An Urgent One

by on April 22, 2017 7:15 PM

There is a tendency at times to put too much stock in a scrimmage that most coaching staffs come up just shy of disregarding. Not to say that there aren't repercussions to a bad performance, but it was the previous 14 practices that dictated many of the offseason roster moves and various internal evaluations.

But as Trace McSorley threw the ball down the field on several occasions Saturday afternoon, the absence of Chris Godwin was noticeable. Albeit the likes of Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki didn't see the field, but McSorley's deep-ball-on-a-prayer successes of 2016 weren't exactly reflected during the Blue-White game.

While this particular instance might not mean much, it does highlight a theme that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later for Penn State. Establishing a No.1 receiver and deciding if Penn State's aerial attack will be based on deep threats and speed, or in the air battles won by Nittany Lion receivers more often than not.

"A guy like Allen Robinson that could make big time plays," James Franklin said after the game Saturday. "I have watched the tapes. How many times did that guy go up in double coverage and come down with the ball? He is still doing it. [Chris] Godwin’s been that guy. How many times has he had guys hanging all over him and he makes the contested catch? People call it the 50/50 ball. It is not a 50/50 ball with Chris Godwin."

Who steps up into that role remains to be seen, although most would put their money on either Blacknall or the emerging, 6-foot-4 Juwan Johnson, an offensive standout over the past few weeks of spring practice.

"It's just having that attitude, that focus and confidence," Johnson said of winning those balls in the air. "That's the only thing that you need to have as a receiver. You have to have that mindset that when the ball is in the air that it's yours. I know that sounds like a cliche but it's the truth, whenever that ball is up there it isn't a 50/50, it's your ball."

Johnson has nearly unanimously been the breakout player of the spring according to players and coaches. Johnson's seven catch, 81-yard outing was solid but hardly memorable, perhaps simply because of the lack of stakes. 

In either regard it was a welcome sight for a Penn State team in the early stages of searching for an important answer. If not Johnson or Blacknall, Penn State could turn to the speedsters of Brandon Polk or DeAndre Thompkins and simply beat teams over the top.

"You need a guy that’s going to be a playmaker, and there are a lot of different ways to do it," Franklin added. "We’ve had guys like those two [Robinson, Godwin] that have been able to go high point the ball and that have been able to go get it in traffic; but, you can have other guys that can just blow the top off the coverage and that can go 80, or just make people miss.

"You need somebody to step up in that role. We have a lot of guys like Daesean Hamilton who have played a lot of football and have a lot of experience. Obviously, Saeed Blacknall has shown flashes that he can be that guy. Juwan Johnson has been a guy that has really come on- He is 6-foot, 4 inches, 230 pounds and has made a bunch of plays. Polk showed some good things today. We have some guys, but there needs to be someone that steps up and says, 'I’m the guy when the game is on the line. Come to me and I’ll make the play.' I would also put Mike Gesicki in that role as well because of the way we use our tight ends."

Whatever direction Penn State ends up going, on a Saturday full of not much news there was at least one question still waiting to be answered as fans filed out of Beaver Stadium.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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