Scott, Thompkins Boost Nittany Lions’ Special Teams Speed
Penn State’s kickoff and punt return units showcased how far they’ve come since 2014 by boosting the Nittany Lions’ efforts in the field-position battle en route to a 27-14 win over Buffalo. Despite the damp conditions, a pair of redshirt freshmen made the most of their opportunities this past Saturday.
Running back Nick Scott trotted out to receive the opening kickoff from deep in the south end zone and promptly darted down the right sideline for 58 yards. The offense sputtered to a three-and-out, but Scott’s return set a positive tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The starter against Temple, safety Koa Farmer, was held out of last weekend’s contest due to an unspecified injury, but will likely return for this Saturday’s prime time matchup with Rutgers at 8 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network. Both could factor in to Special Teams Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Charles Huff’s game plan against the Scarlet Knights.
Scott’s classmate from the 2014 recruiting cycle, wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, also added a much-needed spark against the Bulls by exploding for a 58-yard return of his own. Thompkins almost became the first Nittany Lion to bring a punt back to the house since Derrick Williams at Wisconsin in 2008, but was brought down by Buffalo punter Tyler Grassman by the shoestrings.
True freshman wide receiver Brandon Polk took a 22-yard end-around just inside the left pylon for the game’s first points two plays later. Already the fastest player on the team, Polk could also see his number called in the return game at some point this season.
When asked to describe Thompkins’ impact during his post-practice press conference on Wednesday, Head Coach James Franklin said, “I think we’re blocking well right now on both teams, but obviously he’s [shown] that he can give us a flash.”
Running back Mark Allen started the season atop the depth chart, fielding all four punts in the season opener at Temple, but thanks to an electric performance, Thompkins was listed with the ones in Monday’s pre-Rutgers depth chart.
“I think Thompkins, cause he’s done it before, is much more comfortable going up and catching balls in traffic; and when you do that, not only do you save field-position, but you give yourself opportunities to make plays,” Franklin added.
On the opposite sideline, one player in particular has piqued the interest of all who’ve tuned in to watch the Scarlet Knights thus far. Huff and Franklin will certainly have their eyes fixed keenly on the exact whereabouts of Rutgers return man-extraordinaire Janarion Grant, as the junior wide receiver has already brought back two kicks and a punt for touchdowns through two games.
But, as Franklin stressed during his Wednesday presser, this program is “focused on Penn State” and will continue to prepare to execute its assignments when the lights come on for Beaver Stadium’s first-ever Stripe Out this Saturday night.