Penn State changes special teams strategy
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State helped snap its four-game losing streak with better punting.
Changing its special teams helped the Nittany Lions (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) stop giving up good field position in its win last week at Indiana.
''We've gone away from kicking to specific areas on the field,'' Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday.
He said he now tells freshman punter Daniel Pasquariello to ''kick it as far as you can anywhere within the 53 1-3 yards of the field.''
Against the Hoosiers, Pasquariello punted nine times and averaged just 37.3 yards per kick. But Indiana began 10 of its 15 drives at or behind its own 20. Two others started at the 22 and 27.
''We put the pressure on the coverage guys,'' Franklin said. ''The way we've been covering the kicks has been really valuable.''
Franklin said he made the change a few weeks ago and that it's starting to make a difference games.
''Right now, where we're at from an experience standpoint at the punter position, let's put pressure on everybody else and allow that guy to just go whack it,'' Franklin said.
''I think that's helped. We're hopeful that once they build confidence that we can get back to directional punting in the games.''
Penn State, one victory away from becoming bowl-eligible, faces Temple (5-4, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions continue to struggle on offense. They scored just three touchdowns in regulation during the four-game skid.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg leads the Big Ten with 21.7 completions per game and is second in passing yards (2,038) and passing yards per game (245.1).
But he's been sacked 35 times, the offense has scored only 11 touchdowns in 31 trips inside the red zone and the Lions' running game averages just 86.6 yards per game.
Penn State ran for 162 yards against Indiana, but 92 of that came on running back Bill Belton's longest rushing touchdown play in school history.
That has forced Franklin to rely more on Penn State's defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in rushing defense and third in total defense. It held Indiana and Maryland to a combined four first downs on 31 third-down plays.
If a sack or a penalty creates long-yardage situations for the offense, Franklin has another option.
''Sometimes, you merely reserve the right to punt and reserve the right to add to the punt,'' Franklin said.
''You may run the ball on third-and-12 and everybody boos, but you get six yards and now you're able to pin them deep on a punt.''
Franklin said that strategy is neither ''sexy'' nor ''exciting,'' but it allows the Lions to play field-position football.
''With our punting game coming on, I think we're going to be able to do that and allow our offense time to continue to build confidence,'' he said.