Penn State Preview: Special Teams
Today we say goodbye on one hand, and look ahead on the other. The time has come to face the cold, hard, "Ficken" reality that Penn State Football MMXV represents a new start for our...Special Teams.
A FINAL FAREWELL
I was there, in Charlottesville, VA, on September 8th, 2012. I stood on those aluminum bleachers, in the rain and shouted my encouragement for our Nittany Lions until my vocal chords would no longer allow any sound to escape. All to no avail. The game-winning field goal missed its mark for the fourth and final time that afternoon.
Over time, as we all know, that kicker grew into Mr. Reliability. His perseverance and determination came to represent Penn State at its finest throughout its darkest hour. Hard to imagine, back on that September day in 2012, that Sam Ficken would end up being the beating heart of our Nittany Lions.
Mr. Ficken, you will always be a treasure to us all. Thank you.
With that out of the way, we look ahead to what we have left. There are options, but both are young and both have their pros and cons. Walk-ons Joey Julius and Tyler Davis are in a heated battle for the dubious task of replacing the irreplaceable as Penn State's primary field goal kicker.
Julius, aka The Big Toe as dubbed by his teammates, appears to have a leg-up as of this writing. Already a fan favorite due to his unconventional size (kicker wise) hovering around 260 pounds, he seems to have been given every opportunity to earn the job. Julius, a redshirt freshman from Lower Dauphin HS, is known for his leg power and distance; however, accuracy has been a major problem and continues to be an issue.
Davis, a sophomore from St. Charles, Illinois, is more accurate but does not have near the leg and power that Julius does. Whether one outright wins the job, or if the staff decides to use a combination of the two, we should all prepare ourselves for a large dose of growing pains when it comes to our field goal unit.
In 2014, Penn State ranked 106th in the FBS in punting with just over a 34 yard average. Not good enough. Incumbent starter, Daniel Pasquariello returns and is in a two-way race of his own with Robbie Liebel. As dreadful as it was in 2014, Pasquariello did improve his average as the season wore on. A small sliver of hope as we head into a new year.
THE RETURNS ARE IN
On a much more positive note, the Nittany Lion return game should be much more explosive than it has been in a while. One thing that Head Coach James Franklin brought with him from his time in the SEC is the knowledge that speed kills. Right now, our roster is loaded with speed across the board. It’s unlike anything we have witnessed.
A few names vying for return duties and ones we should get to know are Grant Haley (last season's kick returner), DeAndre Thompkins, Mark Allen, Koa Farmer, true freshmen Saquan Barkley and Brandon Polk. Either one or a combination of several may give us a dose of electricity out of our return men that hasn't been seen in Happy Valley since the Derrick Williams era.
During a recent open-media portion of training camp, Franklin simulated the final minutes of last year’s season-opening win over Central Florida. The offense moved its way downfield with efficiency to set up a last second field goal attempt. Two attempts and two misses. One of those, was a reportedly off-the-charts wide right.
We had grown to expect those big kicks to sail through the uprights over the past two seasons. I'm afraid, no matter who ultimately wins the job, that it is best to prepare ourselves for the worst in 2015.
The good news is, with hard work and perseverance, there is hope for improvement down the road. We will always have the memories of Sam Ficken to thank for that worthy lesson on life.