Special Teams Plays Key Role In Penn State Football’s 17-10 Victory Over Pitt
No. 13 Penn State football’s nerve-wracking 17-10 victory over Pitt was hardly a pretty game to watch.
The exciting offense that Penn State fans got used to watching over the past two games wasn’t on display against the Panthers. Other than a few big plays such as Journey Brown’s 85-yard run and KJ Hamler’s 53-yard reception, there wasn’t a whole lot to write home about in terms of the Nittany Lions’ “explosiveness.”
One area where James Franklin’s squad was clearly far superior to Pitt, though, was special teams. Several of the games most important plays were those by the kickers and punters, and they gave each team plenty of momentum at different points throughout the contest.
Arguably the most important play of the first half came on special teams — more specifically, the golden boot of redshirt sophomore kicker Jordan Stout.
The Nittany Lions had just given up a touchdown to the Panthers and were looking at a possible 10-7 deficit heading into halftime. With the ball on the Pitt 40-yard line and just seconds left in the first half, Franklin went to his kicker for a big play. He delivered in the most emphatic possible way.
Thanks to Stout’s make, the game was all square with Penn State getting the ball to open up the second half rather than a three-point deficit. The Virginia Tech transfer’s kick was important for another reason, too: The 57-yarder was the longest field goal in program history.
The kick also made Stout the first Penn State kicker since 2008 to have two or more field goals of 50+ yards in a season. Sean Clifford was frustrated after getting sacked before Stout’s kick and pushing him back further, but he was hardly surprised that it went in.
“I should’ve put [Jordan] in a better spot. I can’t take a sack there,” Clifford said. “But we’ve been talking about him ever since he got here. He’s got a cannon of a leg and he showed it today.”
The redshirt sophomore’s fellow “Flow Bro,” Blake Gillikin, also had quite the day for the Nittany Lions. Six of Gillikin’s seven punts pinned Pitt inside its own 20-yard line, and he finished with an average punt distance of 42.4 yards — his longest of the day sailing 53 yards.
While Pitt certainly had some long offensive drives in Saturday’s game, it takes a really great team to consistently orchestrate 80-yard drives against a defense like Penn State’s. Gillikin forced the Panthers into taking on that task throughout the day, and he was a key factor in holding the Panthers to just 10 points.
While Stout and Gillikin were obviously fantastic, the biggest play on special teams — and of the game — came when Pitt lined up for a 19-yard chip shot field goal.
After the Nittany Lion defense stuffed Pitt three times on the one-yard line, Pat Narduzzi and his squad trailed 17-10 with 4:54 remaining. Rather than trying to punch it in one more time, Narduzzi elected to trust his defense and kick the short field goal to shorten Penn State’s lead. Alex Kessman smashed the ball off the left upright, and Beaver Stadium erupted after it bounced away and harmlessly fell to the turf.
Pitt clearly had momentum after converting on a fourth down and driving all the way down to the Nittany Lion one-yard line. The fact that they didn’t come away with any points swung all of the energy back to Penn State.
Despite being outgained on offense 396-389, the special teams battle ultimately sealed the win for Penn State on Saturday afternoon.
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With the 2019 White Out coming up against Michigan, relive the last time the Wolverines came to Happy Valley during White Out conditions.
Two coaches with very impressive resumes and a ton of pressure to succeed will go head-to-head Saturday night.
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