Under the direction of Phil Galiano, Penn State’s special teams unit was a bit of disaster in 2018. After Galiano’s departure, in stepped Joe Lorig as well as Virginia Tech transfer Jordan Stout and by the end of 2019, the unit was a strength for the Nittany Lions. It figures to be so again in 2020. Here are three reasons why we’re optimistic about that heading into the season.
The aforementioned Lorig is one of, if the not the best special team coaches in the nation. His units were among the best in the nation at Arizona State and then Memphis and he helped guide the turnaround at Penn State a year ago. While Lorig is a fairly easy going guy, he’s a hound for details and has been very successful at communicating with players just what he wants from them. Given the bevvy of tools he’ll have at his disposal in 2020, there’s not reason the Nittany Lions shouldn’t excel.
Stout, AKA Boomstick, came to Penn State from Virginia Tech a year ago after the Hokies somehow decided that they weren’t able to find a scholarship for him. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they had one lying around. Stout’s dynamite leg was on display early and often in 2019. He started the year as Penn State’s kickoff specialist and ranked fourth in the nation with 66 touchbacks in 83 attempts, many of which went through the end zone. Stout also served as Penn State’s long-range field goal kicker, making attempts from 50 and 52 yards respectively to become the first PSU kicker since Kevin Kelly in 2008 to have multiple makes of 50 yards or more in a season. In 2020, Stout figures to be the natural replacement for punter Blake Gilikin while retaining his duties as kickoff specialist, which should give Penn State a huge boost in the battle for field position.
Position for position, this may well be the fastest roster that Penn State has had under James Franklin. Honestly, it may well be the fastest roster the Nittany Lions have ever had. And that means a lot on special teams. You regularly see Alabama with four and five star recruits making big plays on coverage teams and in the return game. While Penn State isn’t quite at that level yet, they’ve finally reached the level where they’ll have plus athletes playing in these roles. That should allow Lorig to get creative and for the Nittany Lions to make some big plays not only in the return game, but also in kick and punt coverage as well.