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State College, PA – 2018 vs. 2017: Penn State’s Special Teams Fared Worse in 6 Categories, Better in 2 –

James Franklin: We should improve every week.

Joe Paterno: You either get better or you get worse.

Penn State’s special teams: In 2018, they fared worse compared to 2017 in 6 of 10 categories, stayed the same in 2 and got better in 2.

Compared to 2017, this past season the Nittany Lions’ special team performances dropped in:

Blocked field goals allowed — 5 in 2018 vs. 3 in 2017

Blocked punts allowed — 2 vs. 1

Kickoff return defense — 21.3 yards vs. 19.5 yards

Punt returns by PSU — 8.2 yards vs. 12.2 yards

Punt return defense — 8.6 yards vs. 4.3 yards

Net punting — 37.4 yards vs. 39.9 yards

The Nittany Lions’ special teams fared better in 2018 compared to 2017 in two categories:

Kickoff returns by Penn State — 24.7 yards in 2018 vs. 21.6 yards in 2017

Field goal % (individual) — 16 of 24 by Jake Pinegar vs. 9 of 17 by Tyler Davis

Penn State remained the same in two categories: Blocked field goals by defense (1 in both 2018 and ’17) and blocked punts by defense (0 both years).

All numbers, including the national rankings in the chart below, are from the NCAA’s official website for major college football statistics. Click here to go to the NCAA site.

The rankings are final, with one exception: Monday night’s CFP title game between Alabama and Clemson. Statistics from that game will be added to the final rankings, just as Penn State’s stats from the Citrus Bowl vs. Kentucky, a 27-24 loss, are included in its final numbers.

The NCAA does not keep onside kicks as a statistical category. In 2018, Penn State lost two onside kicks and gained one.


For special teams play overall, the Nittany Lions’ 2018 season ranked the second-worst in Franklin’s five-year reign since he arrived at Penn State in 2014.

The 2014 Nittany Lions’ special teams were severely hampered by the NCAA sanctions, as depth was a big factor when Franklin succeeded Bill O’Brien as head coach. That season, Penn State’s numbers and averages were the worst, or tied for the worst, of the Franklin Era in 6 of 10 categories.

The 2018 Nittany Lions’ special teams’ performances were the worst, or tied for the worst, of the Franklin Era in 4 of 10 categories. Penn State’s kickoff return unit, led by K.J. Hamler, averaged 24.7 yards per return, 12th-best in the nation and the best showing by Penn State under Franklin.

In 2018 with ’Bama-Clemson yet to play, Hamler ranks No. 18 in the nation, with 20 returns for 523 yards and a 26.2-yard average. That’s not far off of Saquon Barkley’s kickoff return average of 28.2 yards in 2017, when overall Penn State averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return, good enough for No. 48 in the nation.

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