Penn State Position Previews 2011: Coverage And Return

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Without the benefit of game film, there's probably no good way to break this stuff down without relying heavily on past statistics.  So...let's rely heavily on past statistics. First, the punting game:

Punt Returns

Year Rank Returns Yards TD Avg.
2006 40 36 369 1 10.25
2007 40 29 291 1 10.03
2008 39 25 259 1 10.36
2009 106 29 144 0 4.97
2010 54 32 272 1 8.50

 

 

 

 

 

To give these a little more context, let's look at some other points in the special teams continuum:

#1 Utah 17.60
#20 Virginia Tech 12.43
#40 Iowa State 9.60
#60 Iowa 8.18
#80 UNLV 6.77
#100 Notre Dame 5.35
#120 Memphis 0.45(!)

2010 punt returns:

PUNT RETURNS  No.  Yards  Avg   TD  Long 
Brown, Justin   15  77  5.1  15 
Smith, Devon   12  155  12.9  25 
Astorino, Drew   4.5 
Kersey, Shawney  2.0 
Powell, Chaz   -3  -3.0 
Dailey, Andrew   11  11.0 
Van Fleet, J.   21  0.0  21 
Total..........  32  272  8.5  25 
Opponents......  15  130  8.7  30

The Van Fleet TD, naturally, was the scoop and score after a blocked punt against Indiana.  In terms of a PSU player fielding a punt and bringing back for a touchdown, you have to go back to Derrick Williams at Wisconsin in 2008.

2009:

PUNT RETURNS  No.  Yards  Avg   TD  Long 
Zug, Graham   26  3.2  10 
Brown, Justin   41  5.9  20 
Astorino, Drew   55  7.9  11 
Royster, Evan   1.3 
Dailey, Andrew   14  14.0 
Total..........  29  144  5.0  20 
Opponents......  20  308  15.4  53

5538863508_e94af34aff_m_medium Based on the numbers, Astorino and Brown should not be returning kicks in any capacity, with the only logical exception being when the opposing team is pooching.  Otherwise, no.  Astorino has been more of Designated Fair Catcher, to his credit.  Brown's numbers put him in Notre Dame territory.

Catching a punt is such a perilous, mistake-prone endeavor that even the most sure-handed Penn State players (think Zug and Astorino) can get an acute case of the dropsies.  Punters under duress, such as being backed up into their own end zones, are just as likely to launch a line drive scud as they are while standing at their own 30.  Why not put someone back there who can make the catch and make some tacklers miss? 

Solution: aim a Juggs gun skyward at a 75 degree angle and force Devon Smith (also, Shawney Kersey, Alex Kenney, and Bill Belton) to catch faux-punts for an hour per practice. 

 

Kickoff Returns

Year Rank Returns Yards TD Avg.
2006 43 32 678 1 21.19
2007 64 42 883 1 21.02
2008 10 37 908 2 24.54
2009 107 38 729 0 19.18
2010 68 57 1224 1 21.47

 

 

 

 

 

#1 UCF 27.78
#20 North Texas 24.29
#40 South Florida 22.57
#60 Northern Illinois 21.97
#80 Western Kentucky 21.06
#100 Purdue 19.76
#120 Louisiana-Lafayette 17.64

2010:

KICK RETURNS  No.  Yards  Avg   TD  Long 
Powell, Chaz   21  503  24.0  100 
Green, Stephfon  17  337  19.8  30 
Redd, Silas   147  21.0  34 
Willis, Malcolm  62  20.7  35 
Smith, Devon   83  27.7  38 
Stewart, Jon   11  5.5  14 
Kersey, Shawney  37  18.5  26 
Stanley, Sean   14  14.0  14 
Zerbe, Pat   30  30.0  30 
Total..........  57  1224  21.5  100 
Opponents......  47  976  20.8  48 

2009

KICK RETURNS  No.  Yards  Avg   TD  Long 
Powell, Chaz   16  371  23.2  54 
Smith, Devon   91  18.2  23 
Green, Stephfon  102  25.5  37 
Hayes, Jerome   74  24.7  35 
Wallace, A.J.   40  13.3  19 
Dailey, Andrew   23  7.7  12 
Zordich, Michael  28  14.0  16 
Shuler, Mickey   0.0 
Suhey, Joe   0.0 
Total..........  38  729  19.2  54 
Opponents......  63  1372  21.8  44

We can safely assume that Silas Redd won't be an option for kickoff returns.  Green is obviously gone.  Powell is an interesting option -- he's clearly the best of the experienced returners, but he's also a starting cornerback. That leaves Moo-Moo again, to give us hopes of having our own little Trindon Holliday.  Should be interesting to see which pairings the coaches come up with. Alex Kenney, perhaps?

Punt Return Defense

Year Rank Returns Yards TD Avg.
2006 10 24 107 0 4.46
2007 10 20 107 0 5.35
2008 15 12 64 0 5.33
2009 117 20 308 1 15.40
2010 59 15 130 1 8.67

 

 

 

 

 

Usually a pretty good area for Penn State.  The 2010 touchdown was a hilariously blocked punt in the Outback Bowl.  The 2009 touchdown, of course, was Adrian Clayborn.  Let's not discuss those, other than to say they weren't much about actual punt coverage, though the 15.4 average in 2009 indicates more at issue than one blocked and scooped punt.  Still, for unblocked punts, no return touchdowns in the past five years says Penn State is doing something right.

#1 Tulsa 1.53
#20 Notre Dame 5.50
#40 TCU 7.12
#60 PSU/WVU 8.67
#80 South Florida 9.68
#100 W. Kentucky 11.77
#120 New Mexico 15.62 (3 TD's)

Kickoff Return Defense

Year Rank Returns Yards TD Avg. Kickoffs Touchbacks (TB%)
2006 23 37 679 0 18.35
2007 116 56 1476 2 26.36 78 21 (27%)
2008 65 76 1616 0 21.26 94 15 (16%)
2009 64 63 1372 0 21.78 76 12 (16%)
2010 42 47 976 0 20.77 68 19 (28%)

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, 2009 isn't the suckiest this time!  Certainly, Anthony Fera's leg strength contributed to better performance, although a one yard difference in either direction equals a jump/drop of about 20 spots in the overall rankings.  As you'd probably expect, the middle of the curve is packed.

#1 Washington State 17.00
#20 Boston College 19.84
#40 West Virginia 20.73
#60 Louisiana-Monroe 21.36
#80 Wyoming 22.15
#100 Indiana 23.75
#120 New Mexico 29.67

Again, very tightly grouped in the middle. And just for the hell of it:

Net Punting 

Year Rank Punts Avg. Returns Return Yds. Touchbacks Net Avg.
2006 37 62 41.69 24 107 11 36.42
2007 3 60 42.88 20 107 5 39.43
2008 11 42 42.24 12 64 6 37.86
2009 114 59 41.00 20 308 12 31.71
2010 51 59 40.03 15 130 3 36.80

 

 

 

 

 

No real beef here other than arrrrrrgh2009.

Chart? (I've always wanted to do this.)  Chart.

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Okay, graph.  Also, not a Microsoft Excel wizard.  2009 is "Year 4", as I'm sure you realized.

Truth is, for as much as we read GRRRRR WHY DON'T WE HAVE A SPECIAL TEAMS COACH, JOE during the season, Penn State's special teams are generally pretty good.  I'll continue to argue that the coaching staff is missing an opportunity with its punt returner choices, which have been risk-averse beyond belief.

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