The Highs and Lows of Penn State’s Special Teams in its Loss to No. 6 Michigan

Story posted November 13, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Zech Lambert

Grey clouds coating the State College sky were a good indication of the upcoming mood at Penn State following the Nittany Lions’ 21-17 loss to Michigan Saturday afternoon.

The offense struggled to get much of anything going whatsoever, the defense held relatively sturdy, but one big play ruined the day on that side of the ball — a 47-yard touchdown to Erick All, which ended up being the deciding score.

No one area of Penn State’s game came without flaws on Saturday, even special teams had its flukes, despite having a few shining moments.

The highs for the special teams were very high — a successful fake punt, three made field goals and all four punts being downed inside the 20-yard line.

The lows, though, were very low, including a missed field goal and a failed fake field goal on fourth and goal from the 2-yard line.

All of those plays were captained by Jordan Stout, Penn State’s do-it-all guy on that side of the ball.

Stout has been exceptional punting the ball all season long, evident by his nomination as a Ray Guy Award semifinalist, and Saturday was no exception.

Stout launched two of his four punts 50-plus yards and landed all four inside the 20, giving the defense a big boost.

“They’ve got a long field to go,” fifth-year senior safety Jaquan Brisker said. “It’s always great when Stout kicks a great punt.”

Brisker also cited how pinning opponents deep backs them up against the crowd, boosting the defense’s confidence and giving an extra lift to the blue and white defenders.

Punting wasn’t the only area Stout showed out in against the Wolverines, as the Cedar Bluff, Virginia, native completed a pass on a fake punt to Curtis Jacobs for 18 yards, converting on a fourth and six.

This is a play Penn State has been practicing for a while, according to Jacobs, but he was excited to finally implement it in game action.

“I had to kinda mask my excitement because they’re gonna see me jumping around all happy, and obviously something’s up,” Jacobs said.

Stout then floated a pass into him over a Wolverine defender.

“So usually when we rep that, I don’t have somebody on me. So I was like, ‘Alright, I gotta get this guy.’ So I flashed the hands,” Jacobs said. “I saw him look up and I was like, ‘Alright, got him.’ So it was just a good play and shoutout to Stout for the throw.”

That converted fourth down led to an eventual field goal attempt, one in which Penn State tried to fake — again.

However, this time, it blew up in the Nittany Lions’ faces.

Rafael Checa’s pass to Stout was on his back hip, and Stout was smothered immediately upon catching it, getting pushed backwards a number of yards before he eventually fumbled.

“We’re always expecting it,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked if he was prepared for the fake.

Rather than just going for it on fourth and goal on the 2-yard line, Franklin and company decided to get fancy and try another fake.

At the time, Penn State was up 3-0 and could’ve tacked onto its lead with a short, chip-shot field goal or tried for six points.

Stout, though, was relatively reliable on Saturday, knocking through three of his four kicks, only missing from 43 but hitting from 42, 52 and 31.

Had Stout hit that 31-yard field goal that doinked off the post, and Penn State taken the three points, Penn State may have won, though it’s tough to say for certain if the game would have shaken out the same way.

Regardless of what would have happened, Franklin stands by his decision to fake the field goal from the 2-yard line.

“We have not been great in short yardage situations, so that was our going for it,” Franklin said. “I’d make the call again.”


Zech Lambert is a fourth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email zbl5146@psu.edu.