For Jordan Stout, most of the day was business as usual.
The senior transfer from Virginia Tech handles all of Penn State’s kicking duties, and he does his jobs well.
He’s one of the best punters in college football and was stellar again for the Nittany Lions Saturday afternoon, with his four punts averaging 51 yards.
His kickoffs are consistent to where Penn State fans are surprised when one results in anything other than a touchback and true to form; none of his four kickoffs were returned by Michigan.
Stout made three of four field goals, a 75% average that’s consistent with where he’s been all year (72.2%).
It was a pretty standard day for Stout from the general punting, field goal, and kickoff numbers.
But there were two plays– more specifically, two fakes– involving Penn State’s one-man kicking band that weren’t standard.
Both happened in the first quarter. One was a punt, the other a field goal. One was good for the Nittany Lions, the other was bad. Which one would be remembered as significant would depend on what happened in the next three quarters.
If Penn State beat Michigan, Stout’s successful fake punt completion to Curtis Jacobs that picked up 21 yards and a first down would have been the fake to remember. If it lost to Michigan, a botched fake field goal try more than eight minutes later would have burned through the minds of more than 100,000 people.
Unfortunately for Stout, Michigan won, and the play he’d like to remember will be largely forgotten, and the play he’d like to forget will be remembered.
With Penn State going up 3-0 after its first drive and marching down the field on its second, tight end Theo Johnson was tackled out of bounds at the Michigan two-yard line.
Of the 109,534 fans in Beaver Stadium, at least, oh, 109,530 of them thought James Franklin would do one of two things;
A. Go for the two yards and a two-score lead
B. Play it safe and kick a short field goal.
Franklin chose neither.
Instead, Penn State called a fake on what would have been a 20-yard field goal.
If it worked, holder Rafael Checa– while still kneeling– would have hit Stout in stride, catching Michigan’s special teams unit off guard. Stout would have then coasted into the endzone and been a hero for the second time in under a quarter.
Instead, it was a disaster.
Michigan was ready for it. As Vincent Gray prepared to tackle Stout, the flustered kicker ran backward and fumbled when Gray inevitably got ahold of him.
Instead of scoring seven points and looking clever, Franklin and Penn State got no points and had metaphoric egg all over their faces.
“It was a tough situation,” Stout said. “I think (Checa) did a great job getting the ball to me. I was a little behind. I did my best to get it and stay in stride with it.”
Penn State practiced the play all week.
“We thought we might run it,” Stout said.
They did run it, and a lot of Penn State fans were wondering why.
Franklin explained his reasoning.
“I think you guys know as well as I have that we have not been great in short-yardage situations,” he said. “So that was our going for it on fourth down. It felt like we had the look that we wanted, but it’s about details. We threw the ball to the back hip. Jordan’s not the type of guy that’s going to be able to catch a ball that’s thrown behind him and still be able to outrun the defense.”
It’s far from a sure thing that not running the fake would have led to a different result. The Nittany Lions might have gone for it and failed. If Stout made the short field goal, Penn State still– in theory– would have lost by a point.
Also, Penn State could have stayed on the field and scored a two-yard touchdown, and the fact that Penn State succeeded in the same scenario– 4th and goal from the two– in the fourth quarter only adds to the wonder of how Saturday at Beaver Stadium could have been better for the home team.
Franklin has no regrets about the decision.
“I’d make the call again,” he said, “but obviously, it wasn’t successful.”