Potential Penn State Problem #5: Can I Kick It?

"Above all, we must abolish hope in the heart of man. A calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom." -- Alfred Victor Vigny (French poet, dramatist, and novelist, 1797-1863)

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"Despair is the conclusion of fools" -- Benjamin Disraeli (British Prime Minister and Novelist. 1804-1881)

 

Maybe it's the fact that I was born in Philadelphia, grew up rooting for Philadelphia teams, and inevitably had my hopes and dreams crushed in the most horrifying and heartbreaking ways.  (But hey, we care.)  Despite this scarred past, I tend to be more optimistic when it comes to Penn State.  College games are just a happier atmosphere and lend themselves toward good vibes, as opposed to the lurking dread and threat of physical injury that accompanies any Philadelphia sporting event from the NFC Championship to Wing Bowl. 

Still, I remain a natural skeptic.  So when we kicked around the idea of who would perform the duties of OH NOES WE SUCK AGAIN, I was the obvious choice.  Without accounting for the pastry-laden schedule, does this Penn State team feel like a 12-0 or 11-1 team?  No, not to me.  There are crucial losses to graduation, position changes along the offensive line, and any number of other concerns.  When I look at this year's Penn State team, my first instinct isn't "OMG 12-0!".  But the schedule does lend itself to a memorable season if a few crucial elements come together.  One of those elements is the replacement for record-setting placekicker, Kevin Kelly.

History will appreciate Kevin Kelly more than Penn State fans seemed to throughout his career.  To get a sense of what Penn State needs to replace, here are Kelly's career stats at a Lion:

YEAR TEAM G FGM FGA PCT 1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ LNG XPM XPA PTS
2005 PSU 0 16 23 69.6 0-0 10-12 4-7 2-3 0-1 47 49 50 97
2006 PSU 0 22 34 64.7 1-1 8-8 8-12 5-10 0-3 49 30 30 96
2007 PSU 0 20 26 76.9 0-0 14-14 4-4 1-5 1-3 53 44 45 104
2008 PSU 0 20 24 83.3 0-0 8-8 8-8 2-5 2-3 52 60 60 120

After a shaky sophomore year, Kelly was quite dependable inside of 40 yards and even managed to hit a few longer field goals in his senior season.  For his career, he missed only two extra points in four years and converted 73.7% of his field goal attempts, which places him among the most accurate kickers in Penn State history:

Nick Gancitano (1981-84):  77.5%

Travis Forney (1996-99):  74.6%

Brian Franco (1980-81): 73.9%

Brett Conway (1993-96):  73.7%

Kevin Kelly (2005-08):  73.7%

Source: nittanyanthology.com

Also, Kelly's 83.3% (20-for-24) conversion rate in 2008 equalled the best single season percentage by any PSU kicker (Conway went 10-for-12 in 1994, who needed field goals that year?).  So there's room for concern now that Kelly is gone.

If you believe Joe Paterno, Collin Wagner will get the first shot at nailing down the job:

"He was very close to Kevin last year. He may have a little stronger leg. I don’t think he’s as consistent as Kevin was. We’ll have to see, but I think he’s got a chance," Paterno said.

Wagner sat down with BWI after the Blue-White game for an interview.  If Wagner fails, it's generally thought that true freshman Anthony Fera would be next in line, followed by David Soldner.  Fera likely has the strongest leg of the group.  If you really care, there's YouTube footage of Fera booming kickoffs through the uprights in high school and making 55+ yard field goals during his summer workouts

As a result, we may see Fera handling kickoff duties while Wagner does the placekicking.  You already know how much Joe Paterno harps on the kicking game.  If Penn State is going to make a run at another BCS appearance, Wagner and Fera will have to be a big part of the team's success.

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