There is no sugarcoating it, both on and off the field new Penn State wide receiver coach Taylor Stubblefield has an uphill climb ahead of him. Between the need for the Nittany Lions’ wide receiver group to take a big step forward in 2020 and their struggles at the position on the recruiting trail, Stubblefield has his work cut out for him.
In any business, stability is important. This most certainly applies to college football coaching. Dating back to the end of the 2017 season, stability has been the last thing that Penn State’s wide receiver room has experienced.
This fall, Stubblefield will mark the program's fourth wide receiver coach in as many seasons. Since Josh Gattis left for Alabama following the 2017 season, Penn State’s wide receiver coach has been a revolving door. That has likely played a role in the inconsistent play from the team’s wide receivers since Gattis left, as well as the team’s struggles on the recruiting trail at wide receiver.
Stubblefield can not be faulted for this lack of stability in the receiver room. What he can be faulted for, though, are his early follies on the recruiting trail as a member of James Franklin’s coaching staff.
From the get go, Stubblefield just did not seem to ‘get it’ on the recruiting trail. While many people laughed at him wearing a Miami belt buckle in a picture with incoming wide receiver Parker Washington, it was still an easily avoidable mistake.
As he has continued to recruit for Penn State, Stubblefield has continued to struggle. At one point it seemed unfathomable Penn State would go 0/3 on the recruiting trail with the trio of Maryland four-star wide receivers - Dont’e Thornton, Jalil Farooq and Kaden Prather. Well, it appears that will happen.
At one point Penn State appeared to lead for all three. This included Thornton spending six months as a Penn State commit, but all of that has changed. Thornton recently released a top six that did not include the Nittany Lions, Farooq now appears to be a heavy Oklahoma lean, and Prather, who once was considered close to a lock for Penn State, committed to West Virginia and former Penn State wide receiver coach turned WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker over the weekend.
In addition to the Maryland three, Penn State appears to have zero juice on the recruiting trail right now at wide receiver. While this can be tough to gauge as none of the seemingly endless offers that have been extended to 2021 wide receivers can lead to a campus visit until at least September, there also appears to be a lack of interest from a lot of these players.
What makes all of this that more troublesome is his reputation was never that of a strong recruiter. When Stubblefield left Coral Gables for Happy Valley, Miami fans were not upset. When a fan base is not upset to see a coach leave, that is always telling. For example, just look at Penn State fans when Ricky Rahne left to become the head coach at Old Dominion.
There are two positions on a FBS staff that should feature coaches who are primarily recruiters. These two positions are running back and wide receiver. While Penn State most certainly has that at running back coach with JaJuan Seider, so far, that does not appear to be the case with Stubblefield.
Now, on the recruiting trail, Stubblefield will have an opportunity to fix the perception around him in the 2022 cycle. In-state wide receiver Anthony Ivey is a top 100 player nationally. Ohio four-star, and top 200 overall player, Kaden Saunders is also a top wide receiver target for the Nittany Lions in 2022. Both are currently viewed as heavy Penn State leans, and both are recruitments that Stubblefield badly needs to win out in.
On the field, Stubblefield also has a long road ahead of him. Jahan Dotson returns as a reliable receiver for the Nittany Lions this fall, but behind him on the depth chart is one question mark after another.
This fall, Penn State will not lack talent at the wide receiver position. Daniel George, John Dunmore, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and the aforementioned Washington are all expected to compete for significant playing time, and each of these players were four-star recruits coming out of high school. TJ Jones, who spent much of his recruitment as a four-star player before finishing with high three-star status, will be a factor at receiver, too.
Other than Sean Clifford taking a step in his development, nothing may have a bigger impact on the success of Penn State this fall than the play of the team’s wide receivers. The talent is there, now it is up to Stubblefield to cultivate this talent and develop them into reaching their full potential.
For the work he has done prior to arriving in Happy Valley, Stubblefield has been known as a bit of a technician as a position coach. Stubblefield will need to be every bit of that this fall. Both to help reach Penn State’s wide receivers reach their max potential, but also to help in recruiting.
The past two seasons Penn State’s receiver corp has struggled on the field. Drops, poor route running and at a times a lack of effort have become the norm for the group. With strong production this fall, that alone can help a lot of the recruiting issues settle themselves. That opportunity is knocking for Stubblefield.
During these two years of struggles, Penn State receivers not named Dotson or KJ Hamler have seemed to struggle with confidence. Stubblefield needs to re-establish confidence and swagger in the wide receiver room. Again, that noise you hear is opportunity knocking for Stubblefield.
Many Penn State fans seem to have already given up on Stubblefield as the team’s wide receiver coach. While that is premature, it is understandable due to his struggles on the recruiting trail. That said, he can fix that this fall with a strong performance from the team’s wide receivers. Not only would that paint him as a strong on field wide receivers coach, but it would also help fix the team’s recruiting woes at the position. However, until he proves it, Stubblefield will have a long road ahead of him as the wide receiver coach at Penn State.