UNIVERSITY PARK - Soaring through the air like a broad-winged hawk hovering over the hills of central Pennsylvania, Allen Robinson eyed his prey and instinctively plucked a pass from the skies.
The sight was so majestic, so surreal, even the game’s officials ran to a replay monitor for another look.
OK, so they review all questionable catches at the NCAA college football level.
But nobody has to do a double-take to confirm this is becoming an amazingly familiar sight at Penn State.
Robinson is quickly becoming a dangerous downfield weapon for the Nittany Lions.
“I guess,” Robinson shrugged humbly. “It’s just that the coaches have confidence in me to call some deep plays.”
For good reason.
The games seem to change when the Lions throw deep for Robinson.
Take Penn State’s 45-7 victory over Eastern Michigan, for example.
With the Lions trailing 7-0 Saturday and the offense staggering a bit late in the first quarter, Robinson came up with a diving 43-yard catch that replay confirmed - putting the ball eight yards from the goal line. Two plays later, they crossed it to tie the game.
“That was a big confidence-builder for me,” Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who went on to set a Lions freshman record with 311 passing yards, said of Robinson’s all-out grab.
And later, Robinson needed just one play to put the game out of reach, snagging a 45-yard touchdown catch in stride to lift the Lions to a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“I just try to make plays when my number’s called,” Robinson, a junior from Southfield, Mich., said. “The play was there.”
He’s just happy he got to play from the start this time.
Robinson was forced to sit out the first half of last week’s season opener at Syracuse, due to disciplinary action taken by head coach Bill O’Brien for reasons the coach and his players insisted on keeping private.
“It was a learning experience, I guess, not being able to play the first half and help my teammates out,” was all Robinson said about the matter.
In the process, Penn State learned a lesson, too.
The Lions are a much more explosive team with Robinson lining up on the field than when he’s standing on the sideline.
That became obvious when Robinson hit the huddle for the start of the second half last week, and needed just two plays to produce the game’s first touchdown during a victory over Syracuse. The first was his 25-yard catch on Penn State’s first snap of the third quarter. That was followed by Robinson’s 51-yard touchdown grab, when he beat the defense so badly he stopped his route, plucked a low throw before it hit the ground and still raced untouched into the end zone.
That followed a 2012 season when Robinson broke onto the college scene with a team-leading 77 catches for 1,042 yards and 11 touchdown catches - including long-distance bombs of 53, 30 and 26 yards that reached the end zone and a pair of 45-yard grabs against Navy.
“He is better,” Lions assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “And he’s getting better every day.”
The best way to see that is to watch opposing defenses.
“We’ll try to throw up some deep balls,” Hixon explained. “We’re going to stretch the field because we have some guys who can run, speed-wise. Some of the guys were coming open. They’re going to roll the coverage toward Allen, and other guys are going to get more catches.”
It’s word just as Penn State drew it up.
While Robinson led the team with seven catches Saturday, fellow Penn State receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder finished with six grabs and four other Lions caught two passes apiece.
On his game-deciding touchdown catch last week, red-shirt freshman receiver and former Wyoming Valley West star Eugene Lewis credited Robinson with drawing away some of the coverage and leaving him open for a 54-yard scoring strike in a 23-17 victory over Syracuse.
“I’ve made a few plays, so right now I’m the guy they’re rolling (more coverage) to,” Robinson said. “But I could see them rolling to (Brandon Mosby-)Felder, Jesse James, Eugene Lewis. Richy Anderson had a couple catches today. Some teams cover me differently on some plays. We have other guys. We have a lot of guys.”
None of that bothers him, even if extra defenders watching Robinson could mean less passes coming his way - and less of an opportunity to latch onto the longball.
“Being able to make a play downfield helps us. I wouldn’t say that’s my primary feeling,” Robinson said. “I think it’s just kind of understanding a route, maybe just get us down the field and get us into scoring position.”
For Penn State, there are no quicker routes to the end zone than the ones going Robinson’s way.
Just throw it long and watch him soar.