Field-goal unit gaining concern for Lions

By Cory Giger

It hasn’t cost Penn State yet, but with the meat of the scheduling coming up, the surprising struggles of place-kicker Tyler Davis and the field-goal unit have become a big concern.

Davis missed two more kicks Saturday against Indiana — a gimme from 21 yards and one from 42 yards that was blocked. He is just 5-of-11 on the season, with four misses inside 40 yards, and has had two blocked.

Those are shocking numbers given that Davis made 22-of-24 field goals a year ago and had a school-record streak of 18 in a row spanning the previous two seasons.

Coach James Franklin has not been critical of his kicker, nor has he expressed any intention of opening up the job during practice and giving redshirt freshman Alex Barbir a chance to beat out Davis.

In fact, Franklin has actually praised Davis on several occasions.

“Really, to be honest with you, if you take the blocks out of there, he’s doing pretty good. He’s doing pretty good.” Franklin said Tuesday. “We’re just going to continue to work through it. We’ve got a new holder. We’ve got a new snapper, and like I said, the blocks really aren’t on him.

“Our operation time was fine. I wouldn’t say the kicks were overly low. We just, when you don’t block a guy through a gap and he comes screaming through free, you know, they are going to block the kick. … We know he can be great as a field goal guy. We’ve just got to make sure that everybody that’s around Tyler is supporting him.”

Franklin has spoken repeatedly about Davis’ maturity and work ethic and how he respects that. He also likes that the kicker has owned up to the problems by admitting when he messed up on a missed kick instead of blaming someone one.

“The first way to improve a weakness is to admit you have one,” Franklin said.

The coach said he has no plans to remove Davis from kickoffs so he can concentrate only on field goals.

“He’s been awesome on kickoff,” Franklin said. “I think we are better on kickoff now than we’ve been.”

SUBHD: Gesicki update

Tight end Mike Gesicki missed much of the Indiana game after taking a hard hit to the chest, so his status for Saturday’s contest at Northwestern is in question.

Franklin doesn’t talk about injuries and said he had no update on Gesicki. But later on he did offer up what seemed like good news.

“We expect Mike to play on Saturday,” he said, without elaborating.

It should be noted, however, that Franklin has made that type of comment before about injured players who wound up not playing.

SUBHD: McSorley improves

Franklin heaped praise on Trace McSorley when asked how the quarterback is better now than a year ago at this time.

“To be honest with you, it’s not even really close,” the coach said.

First and foremost is the team’s record. The Lions are 5-0 this year, compared to 3-2 after McSorley’s first five starts in 2016.

“The most important stat that you have as a quarterback is wins … so to me the discussion should end right there,” Franklin said.

The coach didn’t end it there, however, as he came prepared with statistics.

“Completion percentage, first five games from last year was 58 percent. He’s at 65 percent,” Franklin said. “OK, even if you want to take the last five games of the year last year … he was 61 percent last year. He’s 65 right now in the first five.?”Touchdown-interception ratio, last year in the first five games, he had six touchdowns and three interceptions. Right now he has 12 and four. I don’t think it’s even close, kind of in every category that you can look at.”

SUBHD: Defense overlooked?

The Lions are No. 3 in the nation in points allowed at 9.4 per game, behind only Alabama (8.6) and Georgia (9.2). Still, with the offense always getting most of the attention, one might think the defenders could feel overlooked.

“Not at all,” end Ryan Buchholz said. “I think the same thing as having like certain stats, like they say, oh, I’m not upset that I don’t have 10 sacks. Jason (Cabinda) is not upset that he doesn’t have five interceptions. It’s the same thing as individual stats, is like winning as a team. You don’t really care about that stuff as long as you’re winning.

“Personally, myself, I don’t think we care as a whole defense, as long as we win and hold them to as few points as possible.”

SUBHD: Speed kills

One of the biggest differences in the PSU program between now and a few years ago is overall team speed, especially on defense and special teams.

“Our team speed in general has improved dramatically,” Franklin said. “The defensive side of the ball, and also special teams, I think it’s been a major factor, there’s no doubt. And obviously Saquon (Barkley) is somebody that everyone thinks about when you talk about speed. I think we would all agree that he’s gotten faster.

“We’re doing a great job of developing the guys and continuing to create more speed on offense, defense and special teams,” he added.