Penn State-Syracuse Notebook
WR Robinson suspended for first half
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Allen Robinson stood on the sideline during the first half, towel around his neck and helmet off – just waiting for a chance.
Was he injured? He did have a hamstring issue early in training camp, so people were wondering if that was the problem.
But word quickly filtered out that Robinson had been suspended by coach Bill O’Brien, and the question then became if it was for the whole game or not. O’Brien addressed that at halftime when he told the TV audience that Robinson would return for the second half.
O’Brien gave no indication after the game why Robinson was suspended, saying only it was “between me and Allen.” Robinson wasn’t available to talk to the media after the game.
“Allen’s a great player, he’s got a fantastic future and I love coaching the kid,” O’Brien said. “I think he’s a great kid, another guy that comes from a great family. And it was important to make that decision for him. But when he came back in the second half, obviously we tried to get him the ball.”
That strategy came quickly in the second half as Robinson went for 25 yards on PSU’s first play of the second half, then scored a 51-yard TD on the second play.
A win, but injuries could be costly
Penn State can ill afford losing players to injury because of its depth issues, and in that regard Saturday was a tough day for the program.
One of the team’s best all-around players, linebacker Mike Hull, suffered a knee injury in the first half and was on the sideline in street clothes for the second half. Tight end Matt Lehman’s left knee buckled on the turf in the first half, and he was carted off the field.
O’Brien had no update on either player after the game.
“He seems OK. I think he’s going to be all right,” linebacker Glenn Carson said of Hull. “He’s a really tough kid, he’s a kid that gets after it every day, so he’s not going to have trouble coming back.”
Still, losing Hull for any amount of time would hurt the defense.
“A great player like him going down, it takes a toll on the defense,” Carson said. “But you know what, you’ve got to keep pushing. It’s part of the game, it happens, injuries happen and you can’t let that affect the outcome.”
Tight end Kyle Carter played sparingly as he was nursing a left arm injury. His arm was heavily taped, and he had no catches.
Offensive tackle Adam Gress (knee) didn’t start – Gilliam did – but he did play a good bit on both sides of the ball, occasionally spelling left tackle Donovan Smith.
Big day for Ficken
There was a time when place-kicker Sam Ficken was a major question mark for Penn State, but that is no longer the case after he made three field goals Saturday to run his streak to 13 in a row.
Ficken made kicks of 36 and 35 yards in the second quarter, then booted a career-long 46-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“I couldn’t ask for a better start,” Ficken said.
He obviously had a tough start last year, missing four field goals and one PAT in week two at Virginia.
“Obviously, my life in a sense has really 180’d from that point in time – thankfully,” Ficken said. “But going from where I started to where I am now, I couldn’t be more confident in my ability.”
Ficken said that going through the adversity last year made him a better kicker.
“Looking back at that, I probably wouldn’t have worked on my fundamentals as much as I have,” he said. “Not to say that I was lazy, but talking to Robbie Gould, he really taught me how to practice, and that’s really helped carry over into games.”
O’Brien congratulated Ficken in the locker room after the game, and he said the players “went crazy.” The coach then added, “Especially to all those tweeters after the Virginia game last year [who ripped Ficken]. He’s done a hell of a job. He deserves it, he’s worked extremely hard.”
Short day for Ferguson
Tyler Ferguson lost the quarterback competition to Christian Hackenberg, but O’Brien has said all along that both will play. Ferguson got his chance on the third series Saturday, and he threw an 18-yard pass to Matt Zanellato on his second play. But on his third play, Ferguson went to throw a pass and dropped the ball for a fumble that Syracuse recovered.
Asked if Ferguson was disappointed in his brief performance, O’Brien said, “I’m sure he was.”
Orange head coach loses first game
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer was disappointed in the outcome of his college football head coaching debut, but he’ll always remember it.
“I hate to lose,” he said after Penn State’s 23-17 victory at MetLife Stadium. “It makes me sick to lose, but I had a blast. Ever since I was a little guy, I wanted to do this. I couldn’t wait to go, and it was fun.”
Shafer, who replaced Doug Marrone (who is now coaching the Cleveland Browns), felt his defense deserved a better fate. Penn State was held to 57 net yards rushing on 38 attempts and converted only one of 16 third-down opportunities.
“I was really pleased the way coach [Chuck] Bullough [defensive coordinator] had those kids playing,” he said.
When the Orange’s Robert Welsh picked off Christian Hackenberg and returned it to the Penn State 1, setting up a touchdown that cut the Lions’ lead to 23-17 with seven minutes to go, Shafer said, “I thought we were going to win the damn thing. I really did.”
But Penn State’s defense stiffened and forced a punt with 3:03 left and grabbed an interception on Syracuse’s final series.
“The biggest lesson we learned is to keep fighting the good fight,” Shafer said.
Offensively, Syracuse completed just 16-of-37 passes for 189 yards.
“Luckily it’s game one, and we have 11 more to go, guaranteed, and we are going to learn from today,” Orange quarterback Drew Allen said.
The Syracuse camp was impressed with Penn State in general and Hackenberg in particular.
“He stayed level-headed,” Syracuse safety Brandon Reddish said.
“For the most part, Hackenberg did a good job, and he’ll be a good football player,” Shafer said.
There were only 74 players on PSU’s travel roster, including 16 true freshmen, of which seven are walk-ons. The true freshmen: QB Christian Hackenberg, TE Adam Breneman, QB Austin Whipple, CB Jordan Smith, QB D.J. Crook, WR Richy Anderson, CB Anthony Smith, RB Von Walker, LB Brandon Bell, RB Chip Chiappialle, PK Chris Gulla, LB Brandon Smith, T Andrew Nelson, G Brendan Mahon, WR Gregg Garrity, DE Garrett Sickels.
Compiled by Cory Giger and Neil Rudel