PISCATAWAY, N.J. — He didn't make a tackle or score a touchdown, but junior punter Blake Gillikin played an important role Saturday in Penn State's 20-7 victory over Rutgers.
Gillikin punted six times, three for touchbacks that gave the Scarlet Knights the ball at their own 20. There were also three others after which Rutgers took over at its own 8-, 12-, and 16-yard lines. The Scarlet Knights were unable to return any of them.
Defensive players Rob Windsor, Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor appreciated that performance because those punts pinned the Rutgers offense deep in its own territory and gave the Nittany Lions a field position advantage.
"Obviously the field position battle is big when you talk about wins and losses," Scott, a senior safety, said. "So, if we win that, it's great. Blake did an unbelievable job today. He was punting a crazy amount of yards."
Gillikin averaged a season-high 48.7 yards per punt against Rutgers, surpassing his previous best average of 48.5 yards against Kent State earlier this season.
Windsor, a defensive tackle, said Gillikin doesn't let pressure situations get the best of him.
"I've seen him approach every game the same," Windsor added. "He knows what he can do."
Gillikin's first punt of the day went for 67 yards. In the fourth quarter, he topped that, booming a punt 70 yards into the end zone. It was the second-longest punt of his career.
"I actually came up to Blake after the game in the locker room and was like, 'Way to be elite today,' " safety Garrett Taylor said. "He had a huge impact on the game, and it helped the defense out a lot."
Entering the game, Gillikin, who was not made available for comment on Saturday, averaged 43.0 yards per punt, fifth-best in the Big Ten and 35th in the country. He was named one of the team captains heading into the start of the season and has been a big help to freshman kickers Jake Pinegar and Rafael Checa. Scott said Gillikin is extremely vocal with the players, especially on special teams.
"A lot of guys respect him because of his experience and the person he is off the field," Scott said. "So he has been a huge asset to us as a leader, and we're lucky to have him as a captain."