Penn State has reached the midway point of its season, and has a bye week before No. 2 Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium for a Saturday night showdown Oct. 22. It’s a good time to take stock of what has transpired for the Nittany Lions and what might lie ahead.
Struggles on special teams were a big problem for Penn State in the previous four seasons. Whether it was missed kicks, poor punts or overmatched coverage units, the Nittany Lions always seemed to be at a disadvantage in close games because of special teams pitfalls.
That has changed in 2016. This group has significantly improved in several areas, and on its overall performance from the previous four years.
|BY THE NUMBERS||2016||Big Ten rank||NCAA rank|
|Field goal %||100%||T-1st||T-1st|
|Extra point %||100%||T-1st||T-1st|
|Kickoff touchback %||56.8%||4th||30th|
|Kick return yards/return||20.2||10th||77th|
|Kick return yards/return allowed||18.9||3rd||33rd|
|Punt return yards/return||5.8||12th||86th|
|Punt return yards/return allowed||9.5||9th||T-89th|
Penn State has finished 11th, 11th, 14th and 11th in average yards per punt in the Big Ten the past four seasons. The Nittany Lions are seventh, and were higher before freshman Blake Gillikin tried to punt through an injury against Maryland. Assuming his injury doesn’t linger, Gillikin has been a huge upgrade.
Tyler Davis hasn’t missed since replacing Joey Julius as the primary placekicker during last season. Julius is 30th in the country in touchback percentage on his kickoffs, which have become anticipated events because of his tackling prowess (and opposing players trying to send a message by hitting him away from the play and getting ejected).
The Nittany Lions were last in kickoff coverage in the conference each of the past two seasons, but are yielding less than 19 yards per return and rank third in 2016. Cornerback John Reid has had a couple of strong punt returns, though a rotating cast of characters hasn’t had much of an impact returning kickoffs.
And there was a punt blocked against Maryland, and the only touchdown Pitt scored in the final 22 minutes of a 42-39 game was set up by an 84-yard kickoff return.
SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: B-plus
Check out the grades for other aspects of Penn State’s 2016 season: