Penn State players, coaches and staff might notice the letters “CTG” showing up around the Lasch Building on doors, walls and binders. That’s because Joe Lorig — the Nittany Lions’ new special teams coordinator — brought a mantra with him to Happy Valley: “Change The Game.”
“It’s a trademark that I have,” Lorig said Wednesday, his first media availability since his Feb. 21 hiring. “Special teams is going to impact the game, every game, either positively or negatively. And clearly we want to have the positive side.”
Those sitting in Beaver Stadium bleachers would like to see that, too, after a shaky-at-best 2018.
Lorig — who turned Memphis into a special-teams force in three seasons — is tasked with cleaning up a unit that floundered under former assistant Phil Galiano’s leadership. Galiano, a former Penn State analyst, took the mantle of special teams coordinator from Charles Huff when Huff left for Mississippi State with Joe Moorhead.
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After the Citrus Bowl — a game Kentucky won thanks in large part to a punt-return touchdown, two Penn State missed field goals and a failed punt fake by the Nittany Lions — James Frankin said the team’s special teams were “not up to our standards all year long.” Galiano, somewhat surprisingly, kept his job, but left State College for an assistant gig in the NFL in February.
Lorig entered the fold less than a week later, leaving Texas Tech — a program he joined in January. It wasn’t a difficult decision for him, though. Lorig, who worked and roomed with Franklin at Idaho State in 1999, said linking up with Penn State’s coach again was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“It’s Penn State. It’s an iconic program,” Lorig said. “And to be quite honest, without Coach Franklin, I probably wouldn’t have left there.”
But he did, and the special teams coordinator got to work quickly. Lorig spent 40 to 50 hours last week breaking down Penn State’s offensive, defensive and special teams film to get a sense of what he was walking into. What did he see from a special teams perspective? Six kickoffs go out of bounds, missed field goals and allowed touchdowns on returns.
“But to be honest with you, I saw a lot of good things also,” Lorig added. “I saw a lot of really talented guys that play really hard, and if you have that, you can build a culture.”
Lorig will, without question, have better skill players to work with than he did at Memphis, where he turned the Tigers into a special teams nightmare in the AAC. In 2016 — his first season at Memphis — Lorig’s unit ranked No. 2 nationally in kick-return defense, No. 5 in kick-return average and No. 8 in net punting. In 2017, Memphis’ Tony Pollard returned four kicks for scores and was named an All-American. And over Lorig’s three seasons, the Tigers did not allow a kick or punt return touchdown.
At Penn State, Lorig will have Paul Hornung Award finalist KJ Hamler at his disposal, as well as four-star prospects cutting their teeth on kick and punt coverage duties. That excites Lorig — and it ought to give hope to a fanbase that bemoaned Galiano and his special-teams unit more than it would have liked in 2018.
“What I told the team the other day, the fastest way you can improve as a football team is in your special-teams unit,” Lorig said. “That’s the fastest, easiest thing to improve, especially in a place like this. ... I’m excited about the challenge.”