The 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions football season has come to an end. A season that was filled with maddening drops, disastrous special teams, questionable coaching decisions, and zero wins over ranked opponents came to an end on Tuesday afternoon in Orlando. Penn State’s 27-24 Citrus Bowl loss against no. 14 Kentucky featured each of the things mentioned above, leading to the Nittany Lions finishing their 2018 season with a 9-4 record.
A strong argument can be made that the main reason the Nittany Lions lost on Tuesday was due to special teams blunders. A failed fake punt attempt that gave Kentucky great field position leading to a Wildcat field goal and a Lynn Bowden punt return touchdown accounted for Kentucky’s 10 first half points. Jake Pinegar missed a pair of field goals, with one being doomed by a poor snap and the other being partially blocked, and Rafael Checa sent a kickoff out of bounds.
Starting with the first kickoff of the season special teams were a disaster from the get go for Penn State in 2018. This has led to many fans complaining about the special teams.
Your PSU special teams plays today:— Josh Moyer (@ByJoshMoyer) January 1, 2019
- Missed 40-yard FG
- Had a blocked 36-yard FG
- Fake punt stopped
- Allowed a punt return TD
- Misplayed punt return and lost about 15 yards by letting it go
And that's just the first half.
Fans were not exactly happy about the fake punt call, either.
I don’t understand the fake punt call there on 4th & 1. Just go for it and let your dual threat QB make a play. Everyone in the stadium was expecting a fake. #CitrusBowl— Michael Marcantonini (@MIKEdUpSports) January 1, 2019
Fake punt?! Wow what a gamble for James Franklin.— Bob Greenburg (@BobGreenburg) January 1, 2019
Would it have really been a Penn State game without drops from the wide receivers? Of course not! DeAndre Thompkins was bitten by the dropsies bug yet again on Tuesday, including one that may have been a touchdown.
It’s amazing how many drops have plagued this Penn State offense all year.— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) January 1, 2019
Maybe that Breneman guy would have some interest in coaching tight ends if my desired scenario of Limegrover being relieved of his duties and Tyler Bowen moving to offensive line coach comes to fruition? Just kidding. Adam has bigger and better contributions to make to the world than being a football coach.
There were some positives from the Citrus Bowl, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Outside of consecutive touchdown drives in the third quarter, the Nittany Lion defense was borderline dominant on Tuesday afternoon and held Kentucky to less than 300 yards of total offense.
Leading the way for the defense, as he had done so often his freshman year, was linebacker Micah Parsons. Parsons had a game high 13 tackles, he forced a fumble, and he blew up countless plays.
Micah Parsons close out speed is ridiculous.— Matt Bortner (@M_Bortner) January 1, 2019
Boy Micah Parsons is not having it ♂️— Ty (@twilloglesby) January 1, 2019
Micah Parsons is a beast— Erin Evans (@erinevans32) January 1, 2019
Tuesday was also another banner day for Sean Spencer as the Wild Dogs. As they had done time and time again throughout the season, the Nittany Lion defensive linemen were a terror to block.
Kevin Givens with the sack on third down!— breezy (@brianapamela97) January 1, 2019
Kevin Givens gets Penn State's first sack of the day. KJ Hamler fair catches the following punt at the Penn State 12.— Penn State CommRadio (@PSUCommRadio) January 1, 2019
Shareef Miller and CJ Thorpe combine on the sack on 3rd down. It feels like it's been a year since we've seen a 3rd down conversion— Jarrod Prugar (@jprugar26) January 1, 2019
The ground shakes as CJ Thorpe lands from his massive two inch celebration jump.— Thomas Schlarp (@TSchlarp) January 1, 2019
Since Kentucky’s offense does not feature much of the forward pass Penn State’s secondary was not tested much in the Citrus Bowl. However, that did not stop Tariq Castro-Fields and Garrett Taylor from having strong games in run support.
Plays like that are why Tariq Castro-Fields is going to be playing on Sundays.— Matt Lingerman (@linger_man) January 1, 2019
Castro-Fields is having a day out there— Matthew (@Pasquiggs) January 1, 2019
Two nice stops from Garrett Taylor and Jan Johnson to force a 3-and-out and give Penn State good field position. Possession 3 for the Lions needs a first down to generate some rhythm.— Mark Wogenrich (@MarkWogenrich) January 1, 2019
Garrett Taylor has made some really good open field tackles today— Damola Orimolade (@DamolaOrimolade) January 1, 2019
TCF and YGM forced that sack, but Givens will get the credit for it. Huge play for Penn State.— Donnie Collins (@psubst) January 1, 2019
Had Penn State won the game, the play of TCF and Taylor would have been two major reasons why.
True freshman tight end Pat Freirmuth finished off his strong rookie campaign with another solid showing. The Massachusetts native hauled in a touchdown, made a key reception in the fourth quarter, and threw a block that sprung Miles Sanders for a first down on a 3rd-and-10 late in the game.
I knew that Pat Freiermuth was going to be good as a recruit but I didn’t expect him to be this good already. He’s a complete tight end as just a true freshman and is on his way to a very good career.— Penn State Football Die Hard (@PSUDieHard21) January 1, 2019
freiermuth just gesicki in disguise— Fire James Franklin (@khariaintshit) January 1, 2019
Spoiler alert: Pat Freiermuth is the best TE in the country... no need to argue— Dylan Fields (@dylfields_1) January 1, 2019
When it comes to bright spots from the game, we have saved the best for last. As everyone reading this knows the Citrus Bowl was Trace McSorley’s final game at Penn State. In his swan song, the fifth year senior signal caller overcame a broken foot to nearly rally the Nittany Lions from a 27-7 fourth quarter deficit. With his performance on Tuesday, McSorley solidified his spot on Penn State’s Mount Rushmore.
The love for Trace started even before the game did.
Trace McSorley is soaking in every second of his final game as a Nittany Lion. pic.twitter.com/elj8D4eaNZ— Patrick Burns (@PatrickBurns_) January 1, 2019
I’m not ready for it to be Trace McSorleys last game with Penn State #WeAre— Beccaaaaaa (@xflyersgirlx11x) January 1, 2019
Trace McSorley has his final game as a Nittany Lion and I wanna cry. The dude straight balled for 3 years and forever changed Penn State.— ReiD (@CHARLOTTES_OWN) January 1, 2019
Things did not always go smoothly for Trace against Kentucky’s stellar defense. He missed Penn State’s first drive of the second half after breaking his foot late in the first half, but this did not stop him from nearly rallying the Nittany Lions to victory. In fact, it did nothing but add to the legend of McSorley.
Trace McSorley might not be the strongest, most accurate, most consistent quarterback ever. He might not have much of a future in the NFL. But he is the heart and soul of that team and is going to be impossible to replace— Jordan Didio (@didiojm) January 1, 2019
Trace pumping up the crowd makes me want to run through a brick wall— Maria (@maria_m527) January 1, 2019
Trace McSorley will always be the . Find me a brick wall immediately— Matt Smarkanic (@MattSmark12) January 1, 2019
No clue about his pro “grade” but I would love to see Trace McSorley in a Lions uniform. Nice to see a college QB actually step up and move in the pocket to buy time, not just try to escape laterally.— Andrew James ♂️ ️♀️ (@BadNewsDrew) January 1, 2019
Trace McSorley is in takeover mode. Look out.— Chase Campbell (@Chase_KYK) January 1, 2019
McSorley took the game over in the fourth quarter as the Nittany Lions outscored Kentucky 17-0 in the game’s final frame. He finished the game with 246 yards passing and a pair of scores, as well as a team leading 75 rushing yards and a touchdown. But, in the end, the Nittany Lions still came up just short.
Even in defeat, Trace drew praise from both fans and former teammates on Twitter after the game.
Goodbye to a legend who always gave Penn State fans a reason to cheer. pic.twitter.com/dHRzLERBqW— Onward State (@OnwardState) January 1, 2019
@McSorley_IX hold your head high, you are one of the best leaders on the field and one of the toughest football players that ever played the game. Thank you for everything you've done for Penn State and for always giving it your all! #WeAre— Kelly Williams (@kzw110) January 1, 2019
With a broken foot. So much respect for number 9. Thank you Trace. Thank you, young man for all the memories.— The Last Boy Scout. (@psutitan) January 1, 2019
Trace’s heroics culminated in Penn State facing 4th-and-7 from the Kentucky 14-yard line with 4:12 remaining in the game. With the Nittany Lions trailing 27-21 James Franklin, who had all three timeouts remaining, was then faced with a decision. He could attempt a field goal and risk not getting the ball back, or put the ball in Trace’s hands and go for it. The correct decision, largely due to the amount of time remaining in the game and the deficit, would have been to go for it. However, Franklin chose to trot Pinegar out there for a field goal attempt that was successful.
Franklin’s decision backfired on him. By the time Penn State got the ball back there was just :01 second remaining in the game. Coach’s decision was then widely criticized by fans and media members alike.
What is James Franklin doing?— Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) January 1, 2019
Good thing James Franklin kicked that field goal to turn a one score game into a one score game, they're gonna get the ball back wi-oh they're not gonna get the ball back at all— Jake Nazar (@jake_nazar) January 1, 2019
Ballgame. For the second time this year, Franklin needed to put the game in Trace McSorley's hands and didn't.— Dan Arnoldi (@ArnoldiPSU) January 1, 2019
You took the football out of the hands of your all-time qb, giving you the guttiest performance of his life, down 6, to kick a field goal. Utter puckering garbage.— len damico (@lendamico) January 1, 2019
Good job good effort by James Franklin. Kicking that field goal was incomprehensibly bad. How in the world do guys who make 5 million plus to do this not understand the basic math involved in these decisions.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) January 1, 2019
So ... Penn State lost after taking the ball out of the hands of McSorley. Sounds familiar.— Josh Moyer (@ByJoshMoyer) January 1, 2019
Kentucky 27, Penn State 24. McSorley deserved better.
James Franklin putting on a clinic on how not to coach a bowl game. That decision to kick a FG was crazy. #CitrusBowl— John Hayes (@JohnHayes730) January 1, 2019
James Franklin handled the last five minutes like the dude from the Office with the large pot of chili— James Tyler FC (@JamesTylerESPN) January 1, 2019
not giving trace a chance to win that game is unfathomable. i cant even begin to try to justify why franklin basically buried his heart and soul.— collin mehalick (@collin) January 1, 2019
The ending of the Citrus Bowl was a tough pill to swallow and will leave a sour taste in the mouth of Penn State fans, players, and coaches throughout the offseason.