Penn State sits undefeated after two weeks of the 2021 college football season, thanks in large part to a suffocating defense, and an offense that is seemingly improving with time.
Why, then, is the third phase of the game seemingly just “so-so?”
Let me get this out of the way up front - I don’t think the special teams have been bad. Far from it in fact. Jordan Stout earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week following the victory over Wisconsin - you don’t get that by being bad.
My bigger issue has been some inconsistencies and penalties.
Let’s start with the punting. The punting has been exceptional. Through two games, Stout has punted the ball 10 times, for 531 yards. That’s an average of 53.1 yards per punt. Absurd.
The punt returns? Ehhh. Jahan Dotson has been mostly bottled up, and has just three actual returns to his name, and is averaging just 5.7 yards on those returns. Not necessarily his fault, obviously, but I would like to see just a little bit more from the punt returns.
Kickoffs have also been exceptional, with Stout regularly booming the kicks through the endzone. The returns? Ehh again. Only four kickoff returns for 88 yards, an average of just 22 yards. Again, I’d like to see a bit more.
To sum up so far: Jordan Stout has a monster leg, and is exceptional when he’s asked to kick the soul out of the ball. The returns have been meh.
Place kicking has been a little bit different, however.
In the week 1 win over the Badgers, Jordan missed a 23-yard field goal, as well as an extra point, which made a 6-point victory wayyyyyy too heart-wrenching for my liking.
In the week 2 win over Ball State, Stout looked better, going 3-of-4 for field goals with a long of 45, and making all five of his extra point attempts. Still, for being known as a long-ball specialist, Jordan missed a 45-yard field goal.
So far these misses haven’t cost the Lions, but against some of the stiff competition they’ll face this season, missing out on 3-4 points a game could be detrimental.
Penalties have also been a factor for Penn State on special teams plays. In the first game against Wisconsin, AJ Lytton got dinged twice for kick catch interference. Look - I don’t agree with at least one of those calls, but the end result is a penalty. Against Ball State, the Lions drew a flag on a Cardinal punt, but it was ultimately declined.
I don’t say all this to say that the special teams are bad. I want to restate that, because I honestly think that they’ve been GOOD. My only worry is that there are just enough inconsistencies and sloppiness - missed place kicks, a lack of returns, and penalties - that could come back to bite the Lions eventually.
That being said, Joe Lorig is an exceptional special teams coach. I have faith that Penn State will continue to improve in the third phase of the game, and these little issues will resolve themselves in due time.
Just need a pick-me-up is all!