A time existed during the first three weeks of Penn State's season when the team's wide receivers wondered how committed the coaches were to the passing game. The Nittany Lions averaged fewer than 12 completions and just 5.2 yards per attempt in their first three games.
"It took a lot of patience from us," redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton said Wednesday. "We were wondering when our time was going to come. Nobody ever got discouraged or thought that maybe we're not doing it because of something we were doing wrong.
"We just kept the course, stayed focused, made sure we knew what we were doing at all times and waiting for our opportunities to come."
The passing game broke out of its shell Saturday against San Diego State when the Lions passed for a season-high 328 yards. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg had 234 yards in the first half along with three touchdown throws.
After accounting for four gains of 20 yards or more in the passing game, Penn State had five such plays against San Diego State. Hackenberg accounted for four, and running back Nick Scott connected on a 32-yard throw to wide receiver Chris Godwin.
A slow evolution in the passing game has been coach James Franklin's plan since his team was hammered for 10 sacks against Temple. He decided he wanted to get a rushing game going and give his offensive line some much-needed confidence before opening up the offense a little more.
The strategy gradually has succeeded, and it's a multilayered effort. The offensive line has gotten better and the wide receivers have worked hard to develop ways of separating from their defenders, which pleases their coach.
"I think overall we're doing some good things," Franklin said. "We need to continue building there. I think we've got some guys that can have a more significant impact in the game and making opportunities for them in the way we're calling the game."
Godwin and Hamilton are the top pass-catchers among the wide receivers. Godwin, a sophomore, has 19 receptions for 283 yards and a touchdown. Hamilton, who broke Penn State freshman records last season with 82 catches and 889 yards, has caught 14 passes for 146 yards and a TD.
The newcomer in the group is sophomore Saeed Blacknall, who didn't catch a single pass in the first three games but broke out Saturday for four receptions for 101 yards, including completions of 46 and 45 yards.
The lack of playing time early for Blacknall tested his patience but he said the key was "just put my head down and keep working."
"It's a very competitive environment," he said. "It's good for the team. Each day you're going to work and fighting for the same position and getting better. Everyone is getting better."
The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Blacknall gives the Lions a fast, tall and strong target. His bench press of 400 pounds is the highest among wide receivers. He also has run a 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash.
"He's putting all his tools together finally," Hamilton said. "He's going out there playing strong, playing fast, playing smart."
Junior Geno Lewis, who caught 55 passes last year, is off to a slow start (three catches) but figures to be in the mix before too long. Franklin is happy with the depth and the progress shown by the wideouts.
"I think they're doing well and I think they can do better," he said. "But as we continue to build confidence on our offensive line and grow with experience there, those guys will be able to have a bigger and bigger impact as the season progresses."