PSU Football: Off-day for special teams
By MAX JORDAN
For The Express
Just when it was looking like special teams were Penn State’s most reliable unit, they take an off day.
From kicking to returning, the Nittany Lions looked stale on special teams in a game they could afford to make mistakes in.
The game got off to a rough start when kicker Jordan Stout, who has looked automatic on touchbacks this season, kicked an ugly, bouncing ball for a decent return on the opening kickoff.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Stout was 24-for-25 on touchbacks, but last week’s game at Maryland proved he was human when he went just 6-for-9. He was 4-for-6 on the day today but kicked a ball out of bounds for the first time this season.
Stout has already hit a 57-yard field goal this year, so it’s safe to say this lapse is probably just a bit of a slump.
Jake Pinegar also missed a 35-yarder close to halftime. He was 4-4 coming into this game, and was 15-17 all time from inside 39 yards.
KJ Hamler didn’t look like his usual self today either. The redshirt sophomore had two decent punt returns early in the first quarter, but couldn’t find anything on any of his returns after that. His habit of backpedaling lost a bit of yardage today after getting wrapped up by the defense.
“A few plays with me on special teams kind of messed us up a little bit on punt return,” Hamler said. “I was taking a lot of risks today at punt return, and it’s always good to take risks, but I’ve got to be smart about some things.”
Hamler looked fearless out there, taking big hits on returns. The confidence is there, but the execution just needs a little tweaking.
“I could have put the team in better field position and communicated better on special teams, as well.”
Franklin feels like some of the return issues have to do with the opponents’ unwillingness to give Hamler the ball. There have been several times this season where the opponents have been visibly unwilling to kick the ball to Hamler.
“One of the things that we have an issue with is that I think some people are a little concerned to kick it to us,” Franklin said. “On kickoff returns, the ball is all over the place. I’m not talking about just today, I’m talking about throughout the year. Whether they’re kicking it deep, whether they’re squibbing it, whether they’re popping it. People are a little concerned to punt the ball to KJ.”
Special teams will be crucial to next week’s matchup at Iowa, as no points can be left off the board.
Banged up Boilermakers
The Boilermakers came into Happy Valley banged up, missing their starting quarterback in Elijah Sindelar and top wide receiver in Rondale Moore. Yet somehow they were able to cover the +28.5 spread.
Purdue only had 104 yards of offense compared to Penn State’s 460. They also finished with a total of -19 rushing yards and were a measly 1-for-14 on third down conversions today.
That being said, if the first sixteen minutes of this game were to be omitted, the teams would have seven points apiece. If not for a hot start by the Nittany Lions, this game could’ve been a whole lot closer.
Quarterback Jack Plummer went 13-27 with 119 yards and a touchdown, but the Penn State defensive line sacked him 10 times, totalling -65 rushing yards for Plummer on the day.
“We got handled early, they scored points quickly,” coach Jeff Brohm said. “I thought we regrouped on defense and got more aggressive in our approach; started to blitz more, started to show more blitz, back out and be a little more creative. That’s what we’re going to have to do on defense in order to succeed.
There wasn’t a lot of help from the Purdue receivers, who dropped numerous open balls during the game.
Freshman David Bell had three catches for 56 yards, including a 43-yard catch that ended up being the Boilermakers’ longest play of the game.
Look good, play good
The Nittany Lions sported their “Generations of Greatness” uniforms for the second time ever. The jerseys were initially worn during 2017’s homecoming game and features several alterations from the original uniforms, including white cleats, gray facemasks and the players’ numbers on the side of the helmet.
The uniforms were very popular amongst teammates this week.
“Guys like it,” offensive lineman Steven Gonzales said.
“I personally like it. I like the white cleats. I think it makes me look a little bit faster. Guys just overall like the throwback uniforms, they like the little changes once in a while.”
Several members of the team have voiced their praise for the new jerseys, but Gonzales insists it’s nothing more than a uniform.
“That really doesn’t matter to us too much to be honest.”
Welcome back to Happy Valley
Former Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens was one of many to return to State College this weekend.
Stevens, who transferred to Mississippi State in the offseason, posted a picture of Beaver Stadium Friday morning to his Snapchat story with the caption “LONG TIME NO SEE.”
Stevens has had a tough start to his first year under head coach and former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. The senior has thrown for 448 yards in four games, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
His injury troubles seem to have continued since leaving Penn State, throwing just one pass last week. He has battled a foot injury this season that has affected his playing. This is not the start the Bulldogs were hoping to see from their transfer.
Stevens only played one snap last week against Auburn in a blowout loss.
The 2-2 Bulldogs don’t play again until Oct. 12 when they take on Tennessee.
Addition to the squad
Franklin and co. added their fifth wide receiver recruit to the class of 2020.
Norfolk, Va.’s KeAndre Lambert announced his commitment to the Nittany Lions via Twitter Friday.
Lambert is ranked the 31st best receiver in his class and fourth best in Virginia. The 6-foot-1, 176 pound holds a 0.9264 in the 247Sports Composite rating, and will give Penn State another stocky receiver to work with.
Lambert chose Penn State over others like Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame.