When Sam Ficken booted the game-winning extra point in overtime against Boston College in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, capping a remarkable redemption season in which Ficken did not miss on a single kick attempt that wasn’t blocked, I felt a sense of joy for the man, but also felt a bit of sadness in the sense that we as a fanbase were spoiled with such kicking perfection. After that game, I told myself that it would be a long time until Penn State would have a kicker who made it through an entire season without shanking a single field goal or extra point attempt.
Thankfully, that wait ended up being far shorter than I ever could have imagined, thanks to one Tyler Davis. Davis took over for Joey Julius as the team’s primary placekicker in the middle of the 2015 season after Julius missed a pair of extra points in a 39-0 beatdown of Illinois. Davis went on to nail all eight of his field goal and 11 extra point attempts over the remainder of the 2015 season and with the exception of a couple of blocked field goal attempts in 2016, Davis remains perfect to this very day with 30 made field goals and 73 made extra points to his name.
More importantly, Tyler’s overtime-forcing 40-yard field goal against Minnesota was one of, if not the most clutch play of the 2016 season (see video below).
If Davis misses that kick, there is no walk-off touchdown from Saquon Barkley in overtime and PSU falls to 2-3 on the season, with the James Franklin “hot seat” talk reaching a fever pitch (rightly or wrongly) en route to another middling seven-win season. So, while you are certainly right to point out Blake Gillikin’s boost to the punting game and Joey Julius’ ability to routinely boom kickoffs into the end zone (and sometimes lay the boom on opposing players) as being critical to special teams success, it was Tyler Davis who truly lit the first spark of the fire that was Penn State’s improbably successful 2016 football season.