Lions need veteran WRs to respond

Some nitpicking as the Nittany Lions attempt to avoid a three-game losing streak:

Much of this week’s discussion centered around Penn State’s veteran receivers, and while there’s no doubt that the combination of Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins have been a collective disappointment, a wholesale demotion would be premature.

Yes, they’ve dropped a combined 10-plus passes, but they do have a track record.

Johnson won last year’s walk-off game at Iowa, Thompkins had a huge touchdown in Columbus (and, granted, a drop that hurt chances for victory at Michigan State), and Polk is a speed merchant whose late catch helped save the App State disaster.

We can see that K.J. Hamler has a chance to be special. But when you start sitting down veteran receivers in the middle of the year in favor of true freshmen (Justin Shorter, Jahan Dodson, Daniel George), be careful.

One, you’re relying on inexperience, and two, receivers tend to have locker-room influence in terms of how happy and together a team may be. Witness the weekly circus conducted by Odell Beckham, Jr.

Penn State has already displaced tight end Jonathan Holland with freshman up-and-comer Pat Freiermuth, who looks impressive. That’s understandable in that Holland didn’t bring a resume to the season.

Johnson, Thompkins and Polk did.

While the players are certainly culpable, they’re also adjusting to a new receivers coach in David Corley, who previously coached the running backs at Army, where the forward pass is merely a surprise tactic.

The situation bears watching, because if the Lions are going to salvage this season, it’s hard to imagine it’s going to be without better contributions from their upperclassmen receivers.

Nitpicking …

n If you’d have asked me before the season who the highest two draft picks were on this year’s PSU team, I’d have answered Juwan Johnson and Amani Oruwariye, whose late struggles against Michigan State contributed mightily to the Lions’ loss.

n It was reported Friday that Jan Johnson has now been placed on scholarship. Considering the former walk-on has been the starting middle linebacker all season, suffice to say the gesture was overdue.

n Other than closing out games (which is kind of like asking Abe Lincoln’s wife how she enjoyed the rest of the play), Penn State’s defense has played OK. The problem is a lack of turnovers. The Lions’ turnover margin in Big Ten games is +0, tied for eighth in the league. They’ve intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles. Inexperience breeds hesitancy, and it’s evident. PSU opponents have fumbled 12 times, losing just two.

n The preseason losses of defensive ends Ryan Buchholz and Torrence Brown have loomed larger than anticipated.

n If you’re looking for another factor in Penn State’s passing game, consider that Miles Sanders has caught just nine passes through six games. That’s a far cry from the 54 Saquon Barkley caught last year.

n Penn State made Tommy Stevens available to the media for the first time this week, which tells me he’s going to get some snaps today.

n Shamar Jones of Greater Johnstown is a freshman defensive tackle who is redshirting.

n Curious how Michigan does against rival Sparty in East Lansing today. Jim Harbaugh is just 1-5 vs. Ohio State (0-3) and Michigan State (1-2). Mark Dantonio is especially good as an underdog — as we all witnessed last week.

n As great a game as Dantonio coached against (and outcoached) the Lions, it was still stunning that when he faked a field goal by having his holder/quarterback Brian Lewerke stand up and attempt a pass, the target was a defensive end and blocker for the field-goal unit. It brought to mind when Bill O’Brien, hanging close against Ohio State in 2012, ordered up a trick play that called for punter Alex Butterworth to throw a pass to Mike Hull. It didn’t work, either.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.