- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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Stan Hixon saw this coming.
The wide receivers coach told reporters that extra defenders would stalk Allen Robinson throughout the Big Ten season, that they would stick to Matt McGloin's top target better than the names on the back of their jerseys.
"We want to spread it around a little more," Hixon said shortly after Penn State's first win, "because, when we get to Big Ten play, there's going to be some double coverage -- and other guys got to come through."
Enter Alex Kenney, a wideout-turned-cornerback-turned-wideout.
With the departure of Shawney Kersey, McGloin has relied more and more on Kenney as a Plan-B receiver. In the last two games, Kenney has quietly made seven catches to Robinson's eight.
In the non-conference season, Robinson accounted for 40 percent of McGloin's passing yards. But it's clear that won't fly against Big Ten competition. Against Illinois, he reeled in just three catches for 35 yards.
"I don't think you can double-cover one guy on us," McGloin said Wednesday. "We'll just throw to someone else."
Kenney, a redshirt sophomore, wasn’t always the most likely candidate to become that "someone else." He competed mostly at cornerback last season until he was thrust into a receiving role in the TicketCity Bowl.
When Hixon first saw Kenney, he told the speedy wideout he wasn't moving back to defense. Kenney waited to hear those words for two seasons.
"It was frustrating," Kenney said about his previous moves, "and it was tough because you didn't know where you were going to be or what plays to learn because you were constantly getting pushed back and forth.
"I'm really appreciative of having a home with this staff."
In the preseason, his starting job in the slot wasn't guaranteed either. He rotated in and out of the first team with Evan Lewis. Even during Week 1, a dreaded "OR" was listed next to his name on the depth chart -- signifying the job was still open.
But Kenney ended up wrestling the start away from Lewis. Maybe it had something to do with his speed -- he still holds the state's 60-meter record in high school (6.8 seconds) -- or something else the coaches saw. Kenney isn't sure. He just knows he can't take a play off now.
"I'm just trying to make as many plays as possible and catch balls thrown my way," he said matter-of-factly.
The State College native is beginning to emerge as the No. 2 wideout, but he might not be there yet. McGloin hasn't consistently targeted him downfield -- despite being one of the fastest players on the team.
Most of Kenney's catches have come on screens and short routes, but more aggressive targets could be on the way.
"Alex is a great weapon for us," McGloin said. "He's got a lot of speed. We want to get him the ball in space."
11dMitch Sherman and Brian Bennett