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Penn State Looks For Solution To Shaky Punting Game

It’s no secret Penn State has struggled to find consistency from its punters over the past two seasons. But, it was, and continues to be, unrealistic to expect either Chris Gulla or Daniel Pasquariello to transform into the next Jeremy Kapinos, who earned third-team AP All-American honors and was a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2006.

Gulla, a redshirt sophomore from Toms River, N.J., arrived at University Park as a placekicker, and spent 2013 learning under the wing of Sam Ficken. However, once the steady yet unspectacular Alex Butterworth graduated, Gulla was thrust into the fire at punter out of necessity, considering the fact that the Nittany Lions didn’t enough flexibility to bring in a scholarship punter at the time.

Gulla took over at holder toward the end of 2014 when safety Ryan Keiser went down with a serious, season-ending injury, and has provided stability for redshirt freshman kicker Joey Julius. Gulla was listed at first-string punter on the updated depth chart ahead of this Saturday’s showdown against Maryland in M&T Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. Gulla’s best outing thus far, a big-time performance in Penn State’s 28-3 Stripe Out victory over Rutgers, saw him average 41.0 yards on five attempts, though he’s yet to come close to that figure in games since.

Pasquariello, a true sophomore from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, came to Penn State having never played American football. The lefty did, however, spend a significant amount of time training at Prokick Australia — an academy that’s produced a litany of Division I punters, including the last two Ray Guy winners in Memphis’ Tom Hornsey and Utah’s Tom Hackett.

Pasquariello undeniably has the leg to boom it downfield, as evidenced by his career-long 63-yarder against Michigan State last fall. Unfortunately, the Aussie has had a tough time translating his natural ability and mechanics to game day. When he gets ahold of one, Pasquariello’s ball flight is a high, tight spiral. Oftentimes, for one reason or another, it’s a different result.

Shanks not only make it tougher on the defense, but they typically have lingering effects on the field position battle, which proved costly in last weekend’s 38-10 loss to top-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ punter, Prokick alum Cameron Johnston, conversely was adept at pinning Penn State deep inside its own territory. The result was staggering; Ohio State held a difference of about 20-yards in terms of average starting field position.

The punting woes thus far even prompted James Franklin to hint at the possibility of switching things up completely. “If we need to have open tryouts, we’re going to have to find a way to solve that problem,” Franklin said following the setback against Ohio State.

The ever-positive Franklin must have realized that probably wouldn’t do wonders for his current punters’ confidence, as he’s since quelled the idea of searching for a new punter. “But I think in the end of the discussion that we had [during Tuesday morning’s staff meeting], we got two guys that have shown the ability to do it in practice and do pretty consistently,” Franklin said, in an article by Lions247’s Jeff Rice.

Gulla and Paquariello have received a nearly identical amount of run by the coaching staff, posting 21 and 23 attempts respectively. Their season averages, though, have been less than awe-inspiring at 38.3 and 39.9 yards per attempt.

Thankfully, Maryland is no Ohio State, but the Terrapins do trot out a home run threat in William Likely. Likely broke the Big Ten single-game punt return record in the team’s season-opener against Richmond with 233 yards. The junior defensive back already has five career punt return touchdowns, so needless to say Gulla and/or Pasquariello will have something extra to think about before the snap in Baltimore this weekend.

While it’s a long way out, Penn State could potentially have two new options on the way at punter next summer. Special Teams Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Charles Huff was able to secure a pair of coveted commitments in Class of 2016 specialists Quinn Nordin (Rockford, Mich.) and Blake Gillikin (Atlanta, Ga.) prior to the season.

Nordin is considered the nation’s top high school kicker, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, but the Nittany Lions are in the midst of a battle to keep him from flipping to rival Michigan, which happens to be his home state. Nordin was in attendance for Michigan’s heartbreaking loss to Michigan State while on an official visit. Nordin, who’s also an impressive punter, injured his right shoulder during an onside kick in late September.

Gillikin is the consensus No. 3 punter for 2016, according to the 247Sports Composite. Penn State beat out a handful of other big-time programs, most notably nearby powerhouse Georgia, for Gillikin’s verbal. From the looks of his Hudl page, the Nittany Lions are poised to sign a good one from the Peach State in early February.

There’s no way around it; Penn State needs to find a punter who can stabilize, and hopefully (fingers crossed) dominate the field position battle. Only time will tell who’s going to step up and fill that void.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]

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