Penn State's Saeed Blacknall an enigma at wide receiver
UNIVERSITY PARK — Saeed Blacknall doesn't hear too much about his record-setting performance in Penn State's Big Ten Championship win anymore. Now 340 days removed from the stellar showing in Indy (six catches, 155 yards, two touchdowns), Blacknall is reminded of it by only one person.
"My grandma," Blacknall said with a smile after practice Wednesday. "She has a memory problem, but she's always like, 'I saw you on TV in that big game.' She always brings it up."
Since that game — in which he set a Big Ten title game receiving record — Blacknall's been somewhat of an offensive enigma.
The senior wide receiver was suspended for the Rose Bowl, has started only twice this season and tallied one or zero catches in all but two games.
However, Blacknall has still got that big-play ability in his arsenal. The New Jersey native had four catches for 74 yards at Northwestern and caught a 27-yard touchdown at Michigan State, during which he broke three tackles.
With 214 receiving yards on 12 catches, the 6-foot-3 target's 17.83 yards per catch is best on the team — but his 52.2 percent catch rate, via SportSource Analytics, is the worst of any Nittany Lion with 10 or more targets.
In short, the Blacknall experience at wideout has been weird for him and the Nittany Lions.
The 2017 season hasn't been overly productive, but he tries to keep a level head through the struggles. Blacknall understands that, at any time, he can pop a 70-yard gain like he did against Wisconsin 11 months ago.
"I know on the sidelines I've got Trace in my ear and Hammy and everyone telling me to stay ready," the deep pass-catcher said. "Basically I've been trusting the process all four years I've been here. That's never been a problem. ... It's one of those things that I'm always ready to take advantage of my shot when it comes."
Penn State head coach James Franklin believes Blacknall has had a "really good career."
"Whenever he's able to get in space, you look at the post, he's been able to make big plays," Franklin said. "Or when he's able to catch the ball in space, he has a chance to turn that into a big play. We need that from him.
"I think he's going to finish out the season strong, as well."
In the 15 minutes allotted to the media toward the end of Wednesday's practice, there were a few observations and notes worth mentioning:
• As this week's depth chart reflected, Will Fries repped with the first-team at left tackle. Chasz Wright was at right tackle as Andrew Nelson worked with the second-team.
Nelson worked at both left and right tackle. When taking reps on the left side, true freshman Des Holmes worked right tackle — sandwiching guards Alex Gellerstedt and Michal Menet and center Zach Simpson.
• Kevin Givens took first-team reps at defensive end with Shareef Miller.
Starter Ryan Buchholz was carted off at Ohio State and was left off this week's depth chart.
• Franklin said after practice that both the offense and defense have "a few wrinkles" they've been working on.
At least offensively, the Nittany Lions have shown a couple wrinkles throughout the year. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens has two touchdown catches, while Saquon Barkley darted for a 69-yard direct-snap touchdown run against Michigan and threw a 20-yard pass to Mike Gesicki out of the same set at Michigan State.
Maybe we'll see what Joe Moorhead and Brent Pry have up their sleeves this weekend.
Speaking of Pry, Penn State's defensive coordinator was named one of 56 nominess for the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.
The Nittany Lion defense hasn't played particularly well the past two weeks; Penn State has surrendered a combined 65 points and 1,003 yards against Ohio State and Michigan State.
But Pry's body of work over the course of the season has been solid. Nationally, Penn State ranks seventh in scoring defense (14.8 points per game), 11th in sacks per game (3.11), 12th in tackles for loss per game (7.7) and 15th in rush defense (120.2 yards per contest).
"We just want to be appreciative and respectful. ... With it being Military Appreciation Game this weekend, we just wanted to connect with those guys." — Franklin, on hosting dozens of ROTC cadets at practice