We wrap up our ‘3 Reasons’ series with perhaps the biggest area of concern following a catastrophic season of special teams play in 2018.
1. Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes
The Penn State special teams units were nothing short of a disaster throughout the 2018 season. From missed kicks to blocked punts, kickoffs sailing out of bounds, missed lane assignments, and much more. The most troubling aspect is these miscues continued from beginning to end. Fortunately, the special teams will be under new leadership after the much-acclaimed hire of Joe Lorig. However, it seems unreasonable to think that Lorig will be able to ride in on a white horse and fix all the problems that hindered he Nittany Lions throughout the 2018 season.
Lorig has proven himself in previous stints at Memphis and Arizona State. There are certain things coaching can quickly improve, such as kick coverage and preparedness for fake punts or kicks. But so many mistakes came from a simple lack of focus last season. Lorig must find a way to change the mindset of the special teams units, which is much easier said than done.
2. Consistency in the Kicking Game
Jake Pinegar got off to a shaky start in his true freshman season. After starting off by connecting on just four of eight attempts, Pinegar then turned a corner by drilling 11 of 13 attempts in the second half of the regular season, with both misses coming on a frigid afternoon with swirling winds against Wisconsin. Then came the Citrus Bowl, where Pinegar missed two of his three attempts.
Pinegar was able to gain the trust of the coaching staff during the 2019 season, who early on would choose to roll the dice on fourth down or attempt a short punt rather than try a field goal of 40-plus yards. He’s proven he can make kicks in poor conditions (see the Iowa game). But now he needs to find consistency. He has to be someone who the coaches can turn to and expect him to drill a 47-yarder to win a game with the clock ticking down. Otherwise, the coaches may be forced to seek a new option at kicker.
3. Breaking in a New Long Snapper
Of all the Nittany Lions who were drafted or signed as rookie free agents, I can practically guarantee you were least familiar with Kyle Vasey. And that’s credit to Vasey, now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. As a long snapper, you just don’t want to have your name brought up- simply do your (extremely important) job and enjoy life as a Penn State Football player in relative anonymity. Otherwise, you’re the guy who cost the team a game because of one poor snap.
The man likely to fill Kyle’s shoes is his younger brother, Dan Vasey. Let’s hope it’s a smooth transition and we don’t hear his name much until he’s signed an NFL contract in 2022.