It’s fourth down and Penn State brings on Blake Gillikin and its special teams unit to punt the ball away. Sounds like the perfect time to leave your seat to go get your hands on one of those coveted Beaver Stadium chicken baskets, right? Wrong. It’s time to settle in and watch one of the most electrifying men in college football do his thing.
Okay, you might think that is a bit of a stretch, and that’s fine. But Gillikin is one of the best punters in college football, and he is a key asset to the Nittany Lions’ success. He is coming off of his true freshman season, in which he was named as a candidate for the Ray Guy Award (think Heisman, but for punters).
“I think we all realized last year the difference having a big time punter makes in terms of field position for both your offense and your defense,” James Franklin said.
Last season, Gillikin averaged 41.4 yards per attempt (39). He has shown improvement so far averaging 44.2 yards on his 26 attempts this season.
Punt distance alone does not tell the whole story of Gillikin’s success this year. The best measure is the location of his punts.
“That’s my goal every time, to kind of try to set something up for the defense whether it be flip the field if we’re inside the 20…or place it inside the 10 yard line every single time,” Gillikin said.
Gillikin has factored in quality punt location for a tremendous start to this season. By his personal measure of success, Gillikin has placed 42 percent of his punts this year inside the 10 yard line. Expand that measure slightly, and he has placed 65 percent of his punts inside the 20.
His ability to pin opposing teams deep makes him invaluable to the Nittany Lions. Furthermore, Gillikin’s punts have set the team up for a whopping two safeties at the midpoint of this 2017 campaign. Penn State is one of only six teams this season to reach that mark, with Wisconsin as the only other Big Ten team to reach the statistical achievement.
The punter’s reaction to setting the defense up to score? “I’m psyched.”
Hopefully he will soon make an appearance in one of Marcus Allen’s postgame dance videos, as he continues to provide great opportunities for the senior safety’s defensive unit.
While Gillikin is no doubt one of the best at his position, he has not been able to do everything himself. Of course, every Heisman Award winning quarterback has his receivers to thank, running back his offensive line, and Gillikin has his special teams unit, which Franklin applauded for having “taken another step.”
The special teams unit has been on top of opposing returners as soon as they catch the ball, allowing a grand total of 9 yards on only 7 returns this season.
“Combine a really good punter with really good athleticism in your coverage unit…it sets you up for success,” Franklin said.
Thus, Penn State can count on Gillikin’s toe and his strong supporting cast as a key to success as the Nittany Lions gear up for their toughest three-week stretch of the season against Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Should Heisman voters take note? Maybe. Should you pay special attention as Gillikin jogs out to flip the field on fourth down? Absolutely.