Penn State football is in its final week of preparations for the 2023-2024 season, as the Lions will welcome West Virginia this Saturday for a Helmet Stripe game under the lights.
As the season looms, we’ve talked about the offense (Drew Allar, the receivers, Nicholas Singleton/Kaytron Allen, the offensive line) and the defense (the DE room, Abdul Carter, Kalen King, Manny Diaz) seemingly to death. At this point, there isn’t much left to be said about either of those groups that hasn’t already been said.
But what about special teams? The oft-forgotten “third phase” of the game. Penn State is replacing long snapper Chris Stoll, punter Barney Amor, and place kicker Jake Pinegar. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Stoll was a stalwart at LS, earning nominations for the Burlsworth trophy, being named a team captain, and eventually winning the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the best long snapper in the country. To say he will be easily replaced is a jest. Right now, Tyler Duzansky is set to take over at LS, and to say he’ll have big shoes to fill is an understatement.
Amor was solid at punter, averaging 44.3 yards per punt. While I don’t frequently remember yelling his name as he placed a punt in the coffin corner, I also don’t remember yelling his name because of a bad punt. Sometimes, just doing your job is all that’s required. Transfer Riley Thompson from FAU and Alex Bacchetta are duking it out to get the starting nod, and neither has separated himself just yet. Thompson averaged 45.4 yards per punt in 2022, while Bacchetta came in at 41 yards per punt (on just 6 punts). Let’s see who can “just do their job” or better.
Lastly, Pinegar was solid, if nothing flashy at place kicker. He made 97% of his extra points in 2022, but just 75% of his field goals. Transfer Alex Felkins from Columbia and Sander Sahaydak are fighting for the starting gig, and again neither has separated himself. Felkins was perfect on extra points in 2022, though came in at just 69% on his field goal attempts. Sander has not been called on for field goals much, with only two attempts to his name in 2022. Can either become Mr. Reliable for the Lions?
College football is all about change, and how well you manage it. Like other spots on the roster, James Franklin has recruited well for just this sort of situation. All of the specialists are practicing and honing their skills, so I have no doubt that Penn State will put its best foot forward. Here’s hoping that that means we barely notice a blip when the newbies take over on Saturday.