For a team that scored as many points as Penn State did during the 2016 season, the Nittany Lions sure did punt a lot, and that’s what made Blake Gillikin such an important member of the team. Even when Penn State rolled off 49 points against USC in the Rose Bowl, Gillikin was still called upon five times, and he answered that call to the tune of 50.8 yards per boot.
That kind of performance made it easy for the writers of ESPN.com to name Gillikin to their True Freshman All-America Team as well as their Big Ten All-Bowl Team. The story of the 2016 Nittany Lions is mostly about how a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator helped completely turn around the team’s offense, but Penn State also made great strides in the punting department. With Gillikin taking the long snaps, the team’s average yards per punt improved from 39.9 and 11th in the Big Ten in 2015 to third place at 42.8 yards per punt.
We’ll hopefully see less of Gillikin in 2017 as Joe Moorhead looks to fine tune an offense that was dominant at times but also dormant for stretches of last season. However, the punter will certainly prove crucial at some point, so it’s a good thing that James Franklin and company discovered a good one when they plucked Gillikin out of Georgia last year.