Just over a week ago I wrote about an under-rated position: the offensive line. This week I’m covering a group of positions slightly more in the spotlight, but sometimes equally thankless: special teams.
For the Penn State Nittany Lions, the last couple of years have been good to the Special Teams’ standing among fans. 2017 looks to continue that trend.
In this first edition, let’s look at the two positions most commonly related to the Special Teams.
Kickers are commonly the most well-known name in this group solely based on the incredible pressure set on their shoulders. Former Penn State kicker, Sam Ficken knows this too well.
After a poor start to his college career, missing multiple “simple” field goals resulting in disappointing losses, Ficken was berated to the point of receiving death threats. Despite the awful reactions from fans, Ficken stuck with it and improved so much that he ended up winning the season opener in Dublin as well as the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl in overtime. The season lead him to become a fan favorite.
Ficken has also recently earned a tryout with the New Orleans Saints. Wish him luck!
The roller-coaster of fan opinions towards kickers as well as the insane pressure placed on them forces them to be some of the most mentally strong players on the field. The Quarterback being one of the few arguably ahead in that aspect.
Considering all of this, current redshirt-senior kicker Tyler Davis is even more impressive that his near-perfect stats show. Davis was almost robotic in 2016, going 22-24 on field goals and converting all 62 extra point attempts.
Davis had such a great season in 2016, scoring 128 points that he tied the Penn State single-season extra points record. He also tied the Penn State second-place record of 22 field goals converted. Ficken holds first with 24 in 2014.
Davis broke Ficken’s school record of 15 straight field goals from 2012 by making 18 in a row. Davis and Saquon Barkley became the first set of teammates to score over 100 points in the same season. Barkley’s 22 TDs lead the team with 132 points. All of this in only one full season of starting after walking on the team in 2014.
Fans will certainly feel safe if this season’s offense makes it to at least the opponent’s 40 yard line. With Davis backing them up, they’re nearly guaranteed three points from any range within those 40 yards.
By far the least glamorous position in the Special Teams squad, punters are known as the position that no fan really wants to see on the field. When the punter lines up it means your team just failed to move down the field.
Even so, sophomore punter Blake Gillikin has already made a name for the position. Despite the disappointment on the drive leading to his appearance, he gave the offense a good play to end the drive nearly every time he touched the ball.
In 61 punts last year, Gillikin averaged 42.8 yards, that’s better than some NFL teams. His longest punt went a whopping 69 yards with 12 other punts passing 50. Another impressive stat: 36% of his punts landed inside the 20 yard line with 30% of his 61 fair caught. Only six landed in the end zone for a touchback.
Even with the offense ending the drive on a bad note, Gillikin continued to give the Nittany Lion defense a fighting chance on every drive. If third down problems continue in 2017, Gillikin can keep the team above water.
Check back over the course of this week for the next couple of Special Teams player highlights.