Twelve Days — Special Teams

Our 12 Days of Christmas breakdown of the Penn State football program continues with an area that was not nearly as special as it should have been.

10th DAY — SPECIAL TEAMS

MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: A stubborn streak is part of what made Penn State’s Joe Paterno a legend in the college football coaching ranks. By steadfastly refusing to break with his principles, he built the Nittany Lions into a nationally respected powerhouse.

More recently, however, that stubborn approach has hurt the program in certain areas. Take special teams, where Paterno’s refusal to appoint a single coach to oversee the entire unit has led to some horrid performances in recent years.

The numbers do not lie. Through the end of the regular season, Penn State ranked 108th nationally (out of 117 teams) in average yards per kickoff return. At 17.5 yards per pop, the Lions would have been better off taking touchbacks on every kick.

State ranked 89th in average yards per punt return. Calvin Lowry was ninth in the Big Ten in that area, managing 8.3 yards per try with a long of 33 yards.

Meanwhile, the punt coverage team allowed two more returns for touchdowns. This after giving up three TDs in 2003.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould, a senior, had the lowest field-goal percentage (53.8) in the Big Ten and scored fewer points (43) than any other starting kicker in the league.

There were some positives. Punter Jeremy Kapinos continued to develop. Gould was strong on kickoffs. Defensive tackle Scott Paxson somehow turned himself into a kick-blocking machine.

By and large, though, it was a another bad year for the Penn State special teams.

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: Pick your poison. We’ll go with the kick return team, which was terrible for the second straight year. The good news is the Lions weren’t quite as bad as they were in 2003, when they finished last (117th) in the nation in average yards per return.

WHO WAS NICE: Kapinos averaged 41.8 yards per boot. He had 18 kicks downed inside the 20 against only nine touchbacks. And Paxson was amazing.

UNDER THE TREE: Incoming freshmen Justin King and Derrick Williams should both help turbocharge the Nittany Lions’ lackluster return game. And with Gould gone, incoming scholarship kicker Kevin Kelly is in a position where his primary competition will come from a group of young walk-ons.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Appoint a special teams’ coach. More on this in our coaching breakdown tomorrow.

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