Penn State Football Leaves Points On Field Amid Kicking Woes
While the focus during Penn State football’s training camp was largely on the battle between Drew Allar and Beau Pribula for the starting quarterback spot, an even tighter battle was playing out behind the scenes.
The battle to become the next starting field goal kicker was fierce and closely contested throughout camp, and after the first game of the season, it’s still far from over.
After weeks of going back and forth in the depth chart with counterpart Alex Felkins, Sander Sahaydak made the start for the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
“It really could’ve went either way,” Franklin said. “I think that if you look at it early on, Felkins had the lead. Sander kind of took the lead late in training camp, probably over the last week, but it was still very close.”
After forcing a West Virginia punt on its first drive of the game, the Nittany Lion offense debuted quarterback Allar and promptly scored on a one-minute and 56-second drive. Sahaydak trotted onto the field and drilled the extra point, the second in his career.
Early in the second quarter, Sahaydak connected on his third career extra point attempt, and it was all downhill from there.
After the Nittany Lion offense stalled on two successive incompletions, Sahaydak was called on to attempt a 38-yard field goal. The snap and hold were good, but Sahaydak missed the kick wide right.
Less than two minutes later, Sahaydak was given a second chance in the form of a 34-yard field goal attempt, which he once again blew to the right.
Franklin had seen enough, and when the Nittany Lions’ broke through for the first time in the second half on a 12-yard touchdown throw from Allar to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Felkins was called upon to tack on the point after.
“After you miss two field goals that I do not think were long, challenging field goals, it was close enough during camp to go to the other guy,” Franklin said.
Felkins was the main place kicker for Columbia during the 2022 season, where he hit 11 of his 16 field goal attempts with a long of 53 yards. Sahaydak, on the other hand, had only attempted one field goal and one extra point before Saturday’s contest, both of which were successful.
Felkins went on to hit two more extra point attempts during the matchup, as well as a 25-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
As for the rest of the specialists, Franklin was unhappy.
“On special teams, I thought we were really inconsistent,” Franklin said. “Obviously, we missed the two field goals, on kickoffs we were fortunate, and the one punt we had wasn’t for a great average.”
Gabe Nwosu handled kickoff duties for the Nittany Lions during Saturday’s game, only allowing a return on one of his seven kicks. Last year, Nwosu kicked off 18 times with seven resulting in touchbacks.
Penn State only punted twice during the game, and Riley Thompson took both snaps.
Thompson’s only punt of the first half traveled a mere 29 yards, giving West Virginia improved field position as it started at its own 31-yard line. Thompson was called upon again early in the second half, where he booted a 46-yard kick to put West Virginia on its own 26-yard line.
Franklin’s discontent with the punting unit comes after a long stint of talented punters, including current Baltimore Ravens kicker Jordan Stout followed by Barney Amor, who averaged 44.28 yards per punt last season. Thompson averaged 37.5 yards per punt Saturday, albeit with limited reps.
Franklin admits there is a lot the kickers have to clean up in preparation for next week, but he remains confident that the depth and leadership in the locker room will aid them through the rest of the season.
“I can’t tell you my plan moving forward,” Franklin said. “Obviously, we made the change during the game, and we’ll discuss it. We have depth so that if it’s not a guy’s night, there’s somebody else we can put in at nearly every position.”
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“He’s always calm, collected and ready to go. When I see Drew like that, I know we’re going to be good.”
James Franklin named the sophomore the starter over Beau Pribula Tuesday.
Three key defensive players are listed as out for tonight’s matchup, while wide receiver Omari Evans is listed as questionable.