Positive sign for Penn State: Freshman kicker Jake Pinegar finds his footing
Three times Saturday, Jake Pinegar planted his left foot firmly and surely into Beaver Stadium’s soggy, rain-soaked turf facing 40-plus yards of unforgiving distance.
Three times, the 19-year-old true freshman kicker delivered cleanly struck, straight, true, end-over-end blasts through the rain and wind and cold.
While his teammates, particularly some of his fellow special teams players, stumbled and bumbled, Pinegar stood solid and confident. He even shook off his own coach’s attempt to ice him to deliver a 45-yarder to close the first half. He actually made that kick twice, the first time just after James Franklin called a timeout.
In the second half, he connected from 49 and 44 yards for the points that eventually made the difference in Penn State’s 30-24 victory over Iowa.
He’s now 9 of 13 on field goals, which sounds a lot better than his numbers going into the game. More importantly, the kicks looked a lot better than in recent weeks. There wee no mishits or low balls like the one the previous week that resulted in Pinegar’s only missed PAT in 42 attempts.
Are the struggles and growing pains gone for good for the fresh-faced young man from Des Moines, Iowa? Is he ready to nail one from 45 yards in a clutch situation this weekend at the Big House in Ann Arbor? Who knows?
But after this past weekend, one thing is certain: he’s capable. In that regard, he’s rather a perfect metaphor for this Nittany Lions squad as a whole.
As this season has progressed, the Lions have shown explosive potential mixed with mind-numbing inconsistency. The coaching staff at times seemingly hasn’t known whether to trust their young players in the spotlight or protect them from it. Against Ohio State, Franklin passed up a 42-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter. Maybe he thought 3-pointers wouldn’t hold up against the Buckeyes. Maybe he didn’t trust a true freshman kicker who to that point had never hit from 40-plus and had missed earlier in the game from 46.
The Lions, in general, are every bit as young and unproven as Pinegar is specifically. They’re a team that is but a couple plays from 8-0 and No. 3 in the nation, yet they have no business being mentioned with the likes of Alabama and Clemson. They’re also a team that easily could have lost the opener to App State and by all accounts should have lost to Iowa.
Penn State played comedically bad football to start Saturday’s game. PSU fans across the virtual landscape — from the blogosphere to the Twitterverse to the myriad message boards — were apoplectic as the offense sputtered and the punt team botched away 4 points. Luckily for the Lions, those botches resulted in safeties rather than touchdown.
And luckily for the Lions, quarterback Nate Stanley and the Hawkeyes returned the favor. Stanley struggled all day, going 18 for 49, and broke Iowa fans’ hearts with two inexcusably bad plays. In the first half, after what must be the best play fake in the B1G in years, Stanley missed a receiver who had no defender within 20 yards of him. Then, late in the game, Stanley rushed a snap on first-and-goal from the 3 and threw an interception. If you think the Lions have been agonizing to root for at times this season, consider this take from the Iowa point of view.
Iowa gifted the game to Penn State, but the Lions still had to take it. They showed a lot of positive signs in doing so. Trace McSorley came back from an injury scare to make the game’s key play, a 51-yard touchdown run. Tommy Stevens stepped in briefly at QB for McSorley, rushing for a touchdown and leading a 2-minute drill for a tying FG before halftime. The defense kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone, intercepted 2 passes, recorded 3 sacks and persevered through 35-plus minutes on the field.
So, yeah, there was good with the bad, just like in the previous week’s shaky 33-28 victory at Indiana.
Will such an effort be good enough Saturday at Michigan (3:45, ESPN)? Almost assuredly not.
But you never know when a group of young guys will find their collective footing. After all, Pinegar had never connected from 40-plus yards in college until he did it three times in a row against the Hawkeyes.