2020 Penn State Football Preview: Special Teams

By Dylan Burd on October 16, 2020 at 9:39 am
Sep 7, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions kicker Jordan Stout (98) watches his kick during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bulls at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Buffalo 45-13. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The most overlooked unit of a football team is one that can also sway the momentum of a game with one big play: special teams. In fact, it was the special teams that made the biggest, most program-changing play in recent history back in 2016 with the blocked field goal vs. Ohio State.

Special teams coordinator Joe Lorig will return for his second season with Penn State, ready to prepare the unit for the next season-changing play. 

Last Year

Penn State had an extremely solid season on special teams in 2019. Punter Blake Gillikin was an All-Big Ten honorable mention to cap off his Penn State career. Gillikin, the Nittany Lions' best and most valuable special teams player of the last four seasons, signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent this offseason.

The kickoff specialist and long field goal kicker Jordan Stout played his first season with Penn State in 2019, after spending the previous two seasons with Virginia Tech. Stout hit two of his three field goal attempts, the two makes coming from 53 yards and 57 yards, which is a Penn State record. Furthermore, Stout had 58 touchbacks in 2019, which came out to 78.4%, fourth in the FBS according to SI.com.

The kicker for kicks inside 50 yards, Jake Pinegar, was named an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention for his sophomore season. He made 11 of his 12 field goal attempts and 56 of his 58 extra point attempts. 

KJ Hamler was the kick returner and punt returner, averaging 21.4 yards on 24 kickoff returns and 5.5 yards on 23 punt returns. Hamler was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the NFL Draft following the 2019 season. 

Overall, Penn State didn't score any special teams touchdowns, but also didn't allow any special teams touchdowns.

The Starters

  • P/K - No. 98. Jordan Stout (Sr./Jr., 6'3, 207 lbs.)
  • ​K - No. 92 Jake Pinegar ( Jr./Jr., 6'2, 187 lbs.)
  • PR - No. 5 Jahan Dotson (Jr./Jr., 5'11, 183 lbs.)
  • KR - No. 4 Journey Brown (Sr./Jr., 5'11, 215 lbs.)
  • LS - No. 91 Chris Stroll (Sr./Jr., 6'2, 252 lbs.)

As a result of Gillikin’s departure, Jordan Stout will add punting duties to his plate. Stout's versatility is one of Penn State's biggest strengths. He can punt, kickoff, and kick field goals. It's also good to have Stout in case Jake Pinegar is struggling or in a slump. 

However, Pinegar slumping hasn't happened since his freshman season in 2018, where he hit 16 of his 24 field goal attempts. After improving tremendously in 2019, it's likely that Pinegar is another major strength for the special teams. 

Replacing Hamler as punt returner will be wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Dotson was a backup punt returner last year, and had two returns for 39 total yards.

For kickoffs, running back Journey Brown should be the guy. Brown returned three kickoffs for only 26 total yards in 2019. 

Redshirt junior long snapper Chris Stroll will return as the long snapper for his second season as the starter. 

The Backups

  • P - No. 93. Bradley King (Sr./Jr., 6'2, 214 lbs.)/ No. 93 Levi Forrest (Fr./Fr., 6'4, 184 lbs.)
  • ​K - No. 98 Jordan Stout (Sr./Jr., 6'3, 207 lbs.)/ No. 92 Rafael Checa (Jr./So, 6'2, 203 lbs.)
  • KR - No. 26 Caziah Holmes (Fr./Fr., 5'11, 209 lbs.)

Bradley King and Levi Forrest will serve as backup punters to Jordan Stout. King hasn't stepped on the field for Penn State, but played two years at Lackawanna College. Forrest is a true freshman who was the No. 24 punter in the 247Sports 2020 recruiting class. 

If Pinegar is unable to play, Jordan Stout will kick field goals. If Stout is unable to play, Pinegar will likely handle kickoffs but 2018's kickoff specialist, Rafael Checa, is also available if need be.

Caziah Holmes could handle both backup punt and kick return duties, but this could easily be a rotating door as Penn State looks to put the ball in their playmaker's hands.