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Penn State Football: Special Teams Looking to Avoid Early Season Mistakes

by on October 05, 2020 1:30 PM

If there is anything to learn from the early stages of the college football season, it's that nothing has changed. Sure, everything is different, but a basic principle remains the same: the teams that are prepared early in the year, and are able to limit mistakes, will win games.

For Penn State this feels particularly true as the Nittany Lions look down the barrel of a tricky season-opener at Indiana and a daunting task of facing Ohio State in Week 2 with little to no time to ease into the season.

As has been well documented, Penn State and Ohio State in particular have seen their games turn on those mistakes. There have been blocked punts, that one blocked field goal, fumbles that turned the entire contest in 2019 and a host of other little miscues that have swung momentum.

Ideally quality teams are not only able to avoid those mistakes, but are able to survive. In the case of Penn State this is often the case, but against the likes of Ohio State and to some degree a testy Indiana team in Week 1, as is true in life, the fewer mistakes the better.

Enter Penn State's special teams unit. No more KJ Hamler, no more punting safety-valve Blake Gillikin and a whole bunch of Jordan Stout. A lot of new faces doing new things, a lot of places where mistakes can pop up.

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"Number one we try to learn from other people's mistakes you know," Penn State special team's coordinator Joe Lorig said last week. "I put together a teach clip cut up every week for our guys and you know like we were gonna watch three today. Two from the Texas Tech Texas game, but you're seeing a lot of special teams mistakes across the country you know I think it's a product of not having spring football."

That's really the challenge Penn State and Lorig face in the coming weeks. How do you get a team up to speed after missing an entire spring practice period? On top of that the Nittany Lions are only just now starting to ease back into full-team practices and in-person meetings. Everything had been virtual, everything else had been in smaller groups. Now you've got to bring all those moving parts together.

And you're running out of time to do it.

"I don't know how other teams are operating but I know here, up until just last week we were operating separate practices and separate practices work for the offense and for the defense but it does not work for special teams so we really lost a whole bunch of time we tried to make that at that time up in the meeting rooms," Lorig added..

"..I think the more simple people keep things just because you just have you just have less time less preparation more also helps if you have -- or it should help in my opinion -- if you have a lot of veteran players. We do, so again I'm hoping that equates to keeping schemes similar."

Of course Lorig was quick to recognize that not everything will be the same be that with personnel or weekly schemes. The Nittany Lions will have to find a new return specialists on a roster not short on skills players. Lorig and head coach James Franklin will also go against a long-held program belief that kickers should focus on type of kicking; having Stout doing double or triple kicking duty with a sprinkle of field goals from Jake Pinegar.

“I’m so much more comfortable this year because I know the players have my back.  I’m closer to them,” said Stout, whose 79.5% touchback rate was a program-best over the past 10 seasons. “I know the coaches have my back. I know I’m going to get opportunities because I’ve shown that I can.”

Then there's holding, and snapping, and having to prepare for fakes on both sides of the ball.

So many details and so little time before the first exam of the semester.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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