Kicking, Punting Keys For Penn State Against Rutgers
Rutgers doesn’t have a whole lot to be optimistic about heading into its first Big Ten contest against the Nittany Lions on Saturday. With multiple suspensions, most notably those of star wide receiver Leonte Carroo and Head Coach Kyle Flood, the Scarlet Knights face not only a tough Penn State team in front of what will surely be an electric atmosphere at Beaver Stadium, but also their own internal issues.
One thing Rutgers can be optimistic about is its kick-blocking game. The Scarlet Knights have paced the nation by far in this facet of their special teams’ play, totaling 39 blocked kicks since 2009. To put this number into perspective, Fresno State has the second most blocked kicks in the same time frame with 27. Suspended Head Coach Kyle Flood explained the most important aspect is being able to react to the snap in the quickest manner possible.
James Franklin echoed this fact on Wednesday, saying of the Scarlet Knights, “[One] of the things they study is get-off time.”
Penn State has had its share of punting troubles the last couple of seasons. In 2014, Daniel Pasquariello averaged 37.3 yards per punt. He has only slightly eclipsed that number this year through two games, averaging 38.8 yards per punt. Franklin explained on Tuesday in his weekly press conference the need to be better at punting. Franklin explained further on Wednesday by saying, “We’ve got to punt the ball more consistently. That’s our issue right now.” He also went on to show some optimism, however, when asked about the progress of Daniel Pasquariello, saying he’s been more consistent in practice. Still, he has failed to show the same consistency in two games this season, hurting the Nittany Lions in field position at times.
Even with a solid defense, nobody can expect a team to shut down its opponents the entire game when their drives are starting on or near midfield. Last week against Buffalo, the defense let up 285 yards, many of which came late in the game against a prevent defense and some NFL-caliber throws from Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata. Ignoring these last few drives, the defense was solid at holding the Bulls from gaining much of anything, even though Buffalo consistently had decent starting field position — that won’t happen against teams like Ohio State, Michigan State, or even Rutgers.
Rutgers put up 63 points on Norfolk State and 34 against Washington State. Sure, Norfolk State and Washington State aren’t Penn State, but this Rutgers offense is good. Quarterback Chris Laviano threw four passes against Norfolk State — for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Against Washington State, he went 23-29 for 204 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Adding this into having one of the best return men in the country, Jamarion Grant, creates a potential for a big offensive day for the Scarlet Knights.
If Penn State is able to keep Rutgers from getting to Pasquariello, then all there is to worry about is kick coverage, which the Nittany Lions have been good at this season. It doesn’t mean Jamarion Grant won’t be able to beat the coverage, but if that’s all this team has to worry about coming out of practice this week, there’s less of a chance of that happening. Having the Rutgers’ offense starting at its own 20 rather than midfield for the entire game against this defense also provides more hope for a victory this Saturday. It’s clear the Nittany Lions’ offense hasn’t been fantastic — this game will come down to field position.
If Daniel Pasquariello and the punting team can pin Rutgers deep within its own end of the field and the defense can make a few quality stands, the offense should have a short field to drive for some points. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a low scoring affair much like it was last year. Giving the offense as little of a field to drive down as possible will be key, and it’ll all come down to Dan Pasquariello.