Penn State’s punting with mixed results in win against Rutgers
Despite capturing a dominant 55-10 victory against Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State had mixed results when punting the football.
Punting hasn’t been an area of concern for James Franklin this season, as Barney Amor earned the starting job during summer camp and played well since.
For the first time this campaign, he was replaced in non-garbage-time by true freshman Alex Bacchetta.
The Nittany Lions offense sputtered in the opening quarter, and Amor was called on to flip the field like he’s done for most of the season, but that didn’t happen.
Amor’s first four punts went 35 yards, 25 yards, 29 yards and 37 yards, respectively, giving the Scarlet Knights prime field position.
With Amor struggling early, Franklin made the switch to the freshman Bacchetta to try and provide a spark.
“We lost the field position battle. We’re not punting great. We got to get that cleaned up,” Franklin said.
However, Bacchetta wasn’t much better.
Bacchetta’s first punt was a nightmare, as he fielded the snap, but he miscalculated the ball drop and put it onto the ground rather than off of his foot.
Rutgers recovered the loose ball, but the play was deemed offsides, saving Bacchetta from a colossal turnover.
Bacchetta had the chance to redeem himself in the fourth quarter and booted the ball 42 yards. His second attempt on Saturday was much like his garbage-time debut the week prior against Maryland.
Despite Bacchetta’s blunder, Franklin still has faith in his freshman punter.
“We’ll see how it works out with Bacchetta. He’s got a really strong leg. When he hits his ‘A ball,’ it’s as good as anybody,” Franklin said. “So we’ll continue to evaluate that.”
The blue and white failed to capitalize on the Rutgers offsides and punted three plays later, but this time it was Amor.
Amor’s punting average was 39 yards on Saturday, more than four yards below his season average of 43.39 yards per punt. The Doylestown, Pennsylvania, native struggled last week against Maryland, averaging just 37.33 yards per punt.
Bacchetta’s presence and Franklin’s willingness to put the true freshman in the contest lit a fire in Amor.
Amor’s next punt went 58 yards, which was a game-high across both teams, and pinned the Scarlet Knights at their own 3-yard line.
“It was great to see Barney handle it the right way,” Franklin said. “Maybe [putting Bacchetta in] was the right thing, maybe I should’ve done that earlier, but that was a positive.”
Penn State was leading 14-10, and Amor’s punt put the defense in a prime opportunity to force a safety and cause a turnover.
On the very next play, quarterback Gavin Wimsatt was intercepted by Johnny Dixon.
It took the Nittany Lions four plays to find the endzone after Dixon’s interception, with Sean Clifford finding Tyler Warren for the 10-yard score.
“[The momentum shift] was huge. Even more important was Barney’s punt put them at the three,” Dixon said. “When they’re in that situation, you have nothing to do but try to throw something lucky up, so I made a play.”
Punting has played a huge role in Penn State’s success this season, as its opponents consistently start drives backed up near the endzone.
When Amor was botching punts early in the game, it allowed Rutgers to move the ball down the field with more success. Once Amor snapped out of his funk, the Scarlet Knights had trouble generating any momentum on offense.
“Special teams is a huge part of football,” Dixon said. “When you have a punter like Barney that can flip the field and pin them inside the 10, you can’t wish for anything better than that.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.