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Three Reasons For Optimism In 2021: Special Teams

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Booming kickoffs and a clutch return game are among other reasons to feel good about the special teams unit.

Penn State Nittany Lions kicker Jordan Stout (98) punts the ball during the fourth quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 56-21. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Despite what I said in my reasons for concern about the offense post the other week, I am not always such a doomer. Case in point, here is a post that I volunteered to do, giving you three reasons why you should be optimistic about the special teams unit in 2021.

1. Return of the Touchback King

Jordan Stout returns for a third season as Penn State’s kickoff specialist. He remained his usual solid self in that touchbacks department last year, as a whopping 84 percent of his kickoffs never left the end zone. I can’t emphasize enough just how critical it is on special teams when the vast majority of the time, you’re not even giving your opponent a chance to reel off a huge return on a kickoff.

Jordan did admittedly struggle last year as the team’s long-distance field goal kicker, nailing only two of his five attempts. He also struggled in his inaugural year handling punts, averaging merely 41.5 yards per punt. Obviously, you would like to see significant improvement in those numbers and perhaps they will indeed come. He is however first and foremost the team’s touchback king, and as long as that remains the case, Jordan Stout remains a reason to be excited about special teams.

2. More Competition in the Kicking Room

As we just touched upon a little bit when talking about Jordan Stout, the field goal kicking unit struggled in 2020. It wasn’t just Stout though, as Jake Pinegar also struggled, hitting on only 9 of his 13 attempts with a long of only 40. That being said, kicking can be a very streaky thing in football and Pinegar and Stout did showcase what they were truly capable of in the 2019 season when Pinegar nailed 12 of his 13 FG’s while Stout went two for three.

What really makes me more optimistic about placekicking in 2021 though is the addition of incoming freshman Sander Sahaydak. Sahaydak was rated the number eight overall kicker in the country and five-star recruit according to Kohl’s Kicking. He showcased the ability as a high schooler to nail 50-plus yard field goals like you or I flicking a paper football through the uprights. Sander can only help light a fire under Jake and Jordan’s collective behinds when it comes to field goal kicking duties, and that my friends, is a good thing.

3. Jahan Dotson to the House!

We all know what Dotson’s return means for the wide receiving corps, but lest we forget how clutch he was returning punts last season. Jahan fielded eight punts in total in 2020, averaging a solid 24.6 yards per return, included the housing of a punt in the fourth quarter of a tight contest against Michigan State as seen below, which effectively put that game away for the Nittany Lions.

Much like a punter with a booming, accurate, leg, a home run returning threat can also help flip field position just like that. It will surely be exciting to see what Jahan will be able to do with a full season of returning punts.