Penn State Football

Penn State football notes: Ficken stands out for shaky Nittany Lion special teams

CDT photo

Sam Ficken continues to be one of the few bright spots on Penn State’s shaky special teams.

Specifically, Penn State’s punters struggled again to kick the football with any oomph against No. 13 Ohio State on Saturday.

Freshmen Chris Gulla and Danny Pasquariello combined for eight punts for an average of just 34.5 yards each time. Ohio State cashed in on a short field in the second when a Penn State punt fell at the Nittany Lions’ 39-yard line. The Buckeyes needed just six plays to cover that distance and take a 17-0 lead.

Ohio State’s average starting field position was the Buckeye 36. Penn State’s average start spot was its own 26.

“We have an issue punting the ball and we’re going to have to get that resolved,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Really, really put both our offense and our defense in some tough situations. We’ve got two guys and we’ve got to get that resolved. That’s been a big factor in our last two games.”

Officials mum on blown call

Penn State had to overcome a blown call in the first quarter when referees and replay official Tom Fiedler upheld an Ohio State interception that appeared to be an incomplete pass.

Upon review in the stadium, the ball could be seen hitting the grass as Ohio State cornerback Vonn Bell failed to get his hands under it and maintain control. Head official John O’Neill returned from the review and upheld the call. Afterward, O’Neill said “the play technically was not thoroughly reviewed due to some technical difficulties with the equipment.”

O’Neill did not say what the difficulties were and said the replay crew is not required to watch the in-house replay that was shown on the stadium video boards that clearly showed the ball hitting the ground.

“The feeds that the replay team looks at are the feeds you get at home,” O’Neill said. “We can’t create our own rules. The replay rules are clear that we have to use the equipment provided. So, Tom (Fiedler) and the team reviewed what they had.”

Later, Ohio State lined up for a field goal, which kicker Sean Nuernberger made but he did so with an expired play clock. Fiedler said that was not reviewable. Afterward, Franklin was asked about both plays but chose not to address them. He did not say whether or not he would submit those plays to the Big Ten officials office.

“All that equals 10 points, right?” Franklin said.

Franklin said he’d love to say what he was thinking but it wouldn’t be appropriate and would get him fined.

Dieffenbach, Keiser sit out, Smith hurt

Senior guard Miles Dieffenbach did not play for Penn State despite making progress the past few weeks in his return from spring knee surgery.

While his teammates warmed up about 45 minutes before kickoff, Dieffenbach looked on in a polo shirt and shorts. Senior safety Ryan Keiser did the same with an unspecified ailment. Freshman Marcus Allen made his first career start in Keiser’s spot. Allen finished with 11 tackles and broke up two passes.

Dieffenbach, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in March, has been practicing with his teammates and progressing the past couple of weeks. Head coach James Franklin said Dieffenbach is “getting close” and will be worked into the lineup gradually, with a few series before he will start. Redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon has been starting at left guard and did so again against the Buckeyes.

Left tackle Donovan Smith left the game in the fourth quarter when he was hurt on Penn State’s touchdown play. Smith did not return to the lineup and was replaced by right tackle Andrew Nelson. Center Angelo Mangiro moved to Nelson’s spot at right tackle and Wendy Laurent entered at center.

Recruiting under the lights

Nearly two hours before kickoff, recruits and their friends and families started lining the field. A unique spectacle — nearly all of the fans in attendance clad in white — Penn State coaches hope it’s another aspect that will encourage more commitments.

It did for a handful of current Nittany Lions.

“I knew I wanted to play on a big stage with close to 100,000 people in the stadium and that’s what I got,” defensive tackle Austin Johnson said.

Before his team came out for stretches, Franklin posed for pictures at midfield with a handful of prospects.

Ryan Snyder, a recruiting expert for Blue White Illustrated, estimated there were more than 100 recruits in attendance.

Kick time for Maryland set

Penn State announced on Twitter late Saturday night the Nittany Lions’ game against Maryland at Beaver Stadium next Saturday will kick off at noon. The game will be shown on ESPN2.