Penn State special teams problems magnified
College Football Videos
UNIVERSITY PARK — On the first return opportunity Penn State had Saturday against Nebraska, Jesse Della Valle muffed a first-quarter punt.
The first return opportunity Nebraska had in the second half resulted in a Kenny Bell 99-yard touchdown.
On the first opportunity Penn State had to answer, Eugene Lewis fumbled.
The Nittany Lions' first extra-point attempt? Missed. Their first field-goal try, too.
For good measure, Alex Butterworth had a punt blocked for the first time in his career.
It was a game of unfortunate firsts for Penn State's special teams. By most measures, it was the unit's worst performance of the season.
“Special teams are something that we always focus on,” Della Valle said. “We'll just continue to do that and try to play better.”
Luckily for the Nittany Lions, the Della Valle and Lewis fumbles were recovered. Even so, it's not an overstatement to suggest that the specials teams performance cost the Lions a win on Senior Day.
Ever the good teammate, cornerback Adrian Amos repeated the familiar mantra of, “It's a team loss, nobody's fault, not the special teams or not any (individual).”
But even Amos conceded that the kickoff return, in particular, “obviously was a momentum-swinger.”
Later — when not talking specifically about special teams — he indirectly acknowledged how much an isolated miscue such as a missed kick, a missed tackle on a return or a fumble can play a major role in deciding a game's outcome.
“Games like this come down to one play here or one play there,” Amos said. “You always think about those after a loss. ‘If I'd done this or done that, would this not have happened?'”
Most of the Lions' special teams players are not made available to the media. Particularly for NCAA sanctions-saddled Penn State, the units are made up of an inordinate number of freshmen and/or walk-ons.
In every special teams statistic the NCAA and/or Big Ten makes available, the Lions rank among the bottom half of the conference.
They are statistically the worst in opponents' kickoff return yardage. The 25.8 average is 119th out of 123 FBS teams — a function of allowing touchdowns during each the past two games.
No team has allowed more than two all season; only five other teams have allowed two (none in the Big Ten).
Penn State is ahead of only lowly Purdue in the Big Ten in net kickoff coverage, and the Lions dropped to ninth in field-goal percentage. After having a school-record successful field goal streak snapped with a 57-yard miss Sept. 14, Ficken has missed six of his past 15.
The Lions' Big Ten rankings in other special teams categories: Ninth in kickoff returns, eighth in punt returns, ninth in net punting yardage, 10th in gross punting average.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini asserted there's nothing systemically wrong with Penn State's special teams and that the Cornhuskers, on the touchdown return in particular, just made a play.
“I think they are well-coached on special teams; I just think we made a good play and had some nice blocks,” Pelini said. “There wasn't anything that we thought we could particularly exploit.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LaBar: Best next opponent for Brock Lesnar
- Rossi: Baseball needs a new schedule
- Pirates rout Cardinals to keep things interesting in NL Central
- Steelers remain confident in defense
- Ford City Express may be back on track by Christmas
- Rams take down TJ in season opener
- At least one dead in Beaver County fire
- Pirates reliever Liz new, improved
- Pirates notebook: Burnett continues to progress, amps up to 95-pitch simulated game
- Dozens of cats rescued from trash-filled home in Arnold
- Penn State Greater Allegheny welcomes return of bus route to campus