STATE COLLEGE – KeAndre Lambert-Smith opened this season like he ended last season.
Eight months after catching an 88-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl, Lambert-Smith caught four passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns as seventh-ranked Penn State pulled away from West Virginia 38-15 Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
A junior from Norfolk, Va., he grabbed a 72-yard strike from Drew Allar in the first quarter and a 12-yard toss in the third quarter. He looked like a No. 1 receiver.
“I’m embracing my role as that No. 1 guy,” Lambert-Smith said. “I just feel better mentally. I bring better energy. I feel like I can be more consistently a leader to the younger guys. I’m just in a better spot.”
The Nittany Lions had questions at wide receiver after Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley went to the NFL. Trey Wallace, the other wide receiver who started in the two-tight-end set, had seven receptions for 72 yards.
“We feel like KeAndre and Trey have established themselves,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “And then we got a group (behind them). You saw (Malik) McClain do some good things tonight. You saw Liam Clifford do some good things tonight.
“I think we got other guys who can do good things as well.”
Nine different receivers caught passes for the Lions, including McClain, the Florida State transfer who had four receptions for 58 yards and a 25-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Kent State transfer Dante Cephas had one catch for 22 yards, but he and Wallace both dropped passes deep inside West Virginia territory.
“We had two drops in the red zone,” Franklin said. “Both might have gone for touchdowns. We gotta get those things cleaned up. We need to be more consistent.”
Special struggles: Penn State’s special teams began the season as a question mark and didn’t do much to alleviate that concern.
Sander Sahaydak, a kicker from Bethlehem Liberty High School, made two extra points and missed field goals of 38 and 34 yards in the first half. He was replaced in the second half by Alex Felkins, a transfer from Columbia who made a 25-yard field goal and three extra points in the second half.
“It (the preseason competition) was very close,” Franklin said. “It really could have gone either way. It was close enough that after you miss two field goals that I do not think were long or challenging, you go to the other guy.”
Riley Thompson, a transfer from Florida Atlantic, hit his first punt for only 29 yards. He rebounded with a 46-yard punt in the second half.
Nick Singleton returned a kickoff 19 yards, and Kaden Saunders lost 2 yards on a punt return.
Several make debuts: Quarterback Drew Allar was one of seven players to make their first career starts for Penn State Saturday night.
The others were guard JB Nelson, wide receiver Trey Wallace, defensive tackle Zane Durant, linebacker Kobe King and safeties Jaylen Reed and KJ Winston.
“I’m feeling more comfortable out there,” said King, who had five tackles. “I have a grasp of the defense. I feel like I had to make adjustments as a Mike linebacker, communicating with the linemen and the safeties.”
Availability report: Three Penn State players who were expected to see regular time this season were not available to play Saturday night.
The availability report, mandated by the Big Ten for the first time this season, was released two hours before kickoff and listed cornerback Daequan Hardy, defensive tackle Coziah Izzard and defensive end Amin Vanover as out.
In addition, wide receiver Omari Evans was listed as questionable.
The players’ specific injuries were not stated.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/09/03/penn-states-keandre-lambert-smith-trey-wallace-step-up-at-wide-receiver/ Penn State’s KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Trey Wallace step up at wide receiver