Penn State's Punt Unit Stands Out in Win vs. Pitt

By Dan Smith on September 13, 2017 at 9:30 am
Penn State punter Blake GIllikin

Roar Lions Roar/Alex Robinson

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Punting is one of the worst parts of football for a fan. Your team's offense failed for one reason or another and has to give the ball away. Unless something goes terribly wrong for your opponent, you have just guaranteed that you are not scoring on this play or the next several plays. That fact alone paints an ugly picture for the viewer at home.

For Penn State fans in recent years, the added torture of seeing the punt unit trot out onto the field has been its poor performance. Consistently from 2012 through 2015, the Nittany Lions has a combination of punters and punt coverage teams that ranged from "below average" to "borderline historically bad."

So while you will never make the average football fan fall in love with the punt, it is nonetheless a weight off our collective shoulders to see a reliable, consistent punt unit when the time calls for a punt. Sophomore Blake Gillikin has been a revelation since his first game as a true freshman. The rapidly increasing talent level throughout Penn State's depth chart has elevated the play of the coverage teams. Penn State's performance on the punt team against Pitt was the culmination of all of this, showcasing how much of a weapon it can be against the right opponent.

Punt 1 - 10:57 Q1 ... 4th and 7 from own 45

The least notable punt of the day. Fair caught at the 18.

Punt 2 - 10:54 Q2 ... 4th and 10 from own 33

The directional punt and coverage unit are in sync, as Quadree Henderson fields the ball on the far side of the field at the 22 with nowhere to go up that sideline. He tries to reverse field to go against the coverage, but Nick Scott and Amani Oruwariye beat him to the middle of the hashmarks and cause him to lose five yards in the process.

Punt 3 - 6:52 Q2 ... 4th and 15 from own 36

After the success of the previous punt, Penn State runs the same punt play with a very similar result. Again, Henderson's instinct is to try reversing field to take advantage of Penn State overplaying to the far side, but because of the placement of the punt and the speed of Scott and Grant Haley along the hashmark, he second guesses himself and spins into Garrett Taylor.

Punt 4 - 12:30 Q3 ... 4th and 11 from Pitt 49

At this point, Henderson is shook. With Irvin Charles bearing down on him, he calls for a fair catch, but has lost track of where he is on the field. Any special teams coach would instruct his punt returner to let the ball bounce inside the 5-yard-line in hopes that it rolls over into the endzone for a touchback. Henderson, however, is rattled enough by his failures on the last two punt returns to let a mental error defeat him.

Punt 5 - 4:35 Q3 ... 4th and 5 from own 30

The lone sloppy punt of the day. Zach Simpson, one of Gillikin's punt protectors, is late getting out on the field, though it doesn't impact the snap and kick too much. They do a directional punt again, this time to the near side of the field. Ayron Monroe, who has seen Henderson try to reverse field twice on this play, veers too far towards the middle of the field and loses contain on the sideline, allowing Henderson the hole he has been looking for all day. Fortunately for Penn State, Henderson steps out at his own 37, shaving 15 yards off the live ball result of the play.

Punt 6 - 6:15 Q4 ... 4th and 1 from Pitt 46

The signature of the day. With Pitt's offense moving at a snail's pace and Penn State up two scores, the Nittany Lions are content to play the field position game since it all but guarantees a win. With a short field, Gillikin is charged with trying to get the ball in the air to be downed by his coverage unit close to the goalline. He does it to perfection, landing the ball on the 3-yard-line where it essentially bounces straight in the air before Charles, Kyle Vasey, Monroe, and Taylor can all combine to down it. This led directly to the Marcus Allen safety two plays later.

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