Citrus Bowl notebook

Embarrassing day for special teams

ORLANDO, Fla. — There was nothing special about Penn State’s kicking game Tuesday, as the team ended a tough season with an embarrassing showing in the 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.

Penn State failed to convert a fake punt in its own territory on the first possession of the game, leading to three points for the Wildcats. Upman Johnathan Thomas briefly dropped the direct snap and was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the PSU 33.

“We have been working that. We dropped the ball. We don’t drop the ball, I think we get the first down,” coach James Franklin said.

Kentucky took over at the 33 and got to the 9 before kicking a field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.

Midway through the first quarter, Jake Pinegar missed a 40-yard field goal wide right.

On PSU’s next possession, Blake Gillikin punted to Lynn Bowden, who returned it 58 yards for a TD and 10-0 lead.

Pinegar’s day got worse when he had a 36-yard field goal try blocked by Josh Allen late in the first half.

So, the Lions not only failed to score six points on two field goal tries, they also gave up 10 points on their own special teams mistakes — a 16-point difference in a game that ultimately was decided by three points.

There’s little doubt Penn State is going to have to take a long, hard look at its special teams operations this offseason, and that could include Franklin having to fire coordinator Phil Galiano.

“We’ll take a deep dive in it. We’ll ask tough questions to ourselves, and we’ll look at everything, A through Z,” Franklin said. “We’ll look at everything. We’ll have tough conversations. We’ll do what we’ve got to do to get better, but it was not up to our standards today. Wasn’t up to our standards all year long.”

Gillikin had a 71-yard punt early in the game — it was his third punt of at least 70 yards this season, showing his great leg — but he also has struggled with inconsistency.

“We punt the ball (71) yards once, and then we shank the next, and that’s kind of happened throughout the year,” Franklin said.

“Our job is to help the team win the game at the end of the day, and we didn’t do that well today,” Gillikin said of the special teams.

“I think ups and downs is kind of the story of the season, and that’s kind of what happened today,” he added.

NFL decisions

Running back Miles Sanders and defensive end Shareef Miller, who both are widely expected to turn pro a year early, were asked about their NFL draft decisions after the game. Neither gave a definitive answer.

“It’s up in the air,” Miller said.

“I haven’t really made my decision yet,” Sanders said. “I’m going to start thinking about it now. I’d say I’ll have my decision in these next two days.”

Sanders carried 13 times for 51 yards Tuesday and finished the season with 1,274 yards. He’s projected to go anywhere from the second to fourth round if he turns pro.

“I think the season went really well,” Sanders said. “I came out here, put my heart out on the line for the seniors and the whole team. I think I played very selfless, I did what I can to help the team win each week.”

As for his NFL decision, Sanders called it “super difficult.”

“Probably the hardest decision I’m going to make in my life,” he said. “I love these guys. I chose this school for a reason. I put my all out there. We’re just going to see. I’m going to pray on it, and then we’re going to see about my decision.”

He wouldn’t get into which factors will play a role in his decision.

“I still have a lot of places to grow in, and I believe that,” Sanders said. “Whether I come back next year, I’m going to be 10 toes down and 100 percent bought in and get better for the next season. Or whether it’s me leaving, I know what I’ve got to work on, and the league’s going to get my best.”

Windsor suspended

Defensive tackle Robert Windsor missed the game and was on the sideline in shorts and a jersey.

“Rob was suspended for a violation of team rules,” Franklin said.

Windsor has been a big part of PSU’s defensive growth this season, and he certainly could have been a factor Tuesday. Instead, he missed the game and was replaced by Antonio Shelton.

Big day for Givens

Defensive tackle Kevin Givens had two sacks, tying his career high, and four total tackles. The Altoona Area High Schoo product also had two sacks in the regular-season finale against Maryland, so he had four in the final two games.

Brown ejected for targeting

Linebacker Cam Brown was ejected for targeting in the second half, costing the Lions another key player on defense.

Since the targeting call occurred in the second half, it’s believed Brown will have to sit out the first half of next season’s opener against Idaho.

McSorley and the pros

McSorley is not rated very highly among NFL draft prospects at quarterback. That’s nothing new, given that he wasn’t a highly recruited player out of high school, either, and had to prove himself at Penn State.

But McSorley is confident he can play in the NFL.

“Extremely confident,” he said. “I was confident that I could play in college when I got to this level when a lot of people didn’t think I could. And I’m extremely confident that I can go out and perform at the next level. That’s something that I’ve always dreamt of doing and something that I plan on accomplishing.”

The foot injury he suffered Tuesday could impact his preparation for the draft, but before leaving the stadium, McSorley said he wasn’t sure the severity of the injury.

Comparisons to Le’Veon Bell

PSU’s Shareef Miller had high praise for Kentucky running back Benny Snell, the game MVP who rushed for 144 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.

“He’s a real good back, he’s real patient,” Miller said. “So like, he waits, kind of like a Le’Veon Bell — he waits and is real patient. … He’s a great back. A lot of respect for him.”

— Compiled by Cory Giger

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