Penn State aims to contain USC's Jackson in Rose Bowl

Penn State aims to contain USC's Jackson in Rose Bowl

LOS ANGELES -- Penn State special teams coordinator Charles Huff goes to great lengths to prepare his players for any possible situation.

While nobody can fully prepare for Southern California star Adoree Jackson, Huff wants his Nittany Lions to have a chance in the Rose Bowl on Monday.

Huff created a list of scenarios for his special-teamers to review last summer, even including the "Music City Miracle," and added to it during the season with any unusual or unexpected circumstance that might have happened around college football or in the NFL.

"All those things, we constantly try and educate our guys so they don't panic in those situations," Huff said.

Those lessons paid off during the regular season against Ohio State, and the No. 5 Nittany Lions hope it happens again in Pasadena against the No. 9 Trojans and another superb special teams unit that features Jackson, USC's versatile All-American and potent kick returner.

Penn State coach James Franklin said the main goal for his special teams was "not allowing Adoree to wreck the game."

Huff strives to avoid the apparent panic that hurt the Buckeyes while they held a 21-17 lead late in the fourth quarter on Oct. 22, unsure whether they wanted to go for it on fourth down or try a 45-yard field goal. Despite having a timeout, Ohio State rushed out their kicking team and Penn State responded with a season-defining play.

Safety Marcus Allen sprinted towards the line of scrimmage and vaulted into the air to block the kick, with the ball bouncing right into cornerback Grant Haley's hands. Haley returned it 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The result propelled Penn State to the Big Ten East division title and a spot in the conference title game six weeks later, thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio State.

"It was one of those things that you feel like -- I don't want to say once in a lifetime -- everything worked out perfectly on that play, Marcus blocking the kick, the ball just kind of popping up in my hands," Haley said. "During the play I was just trying to get to the end zone, not really taking in everything, but after watching it it was just truly amazing."

But Allen nearly blocked a kick earlier in the game in identical fashion, off by just six inches, Huff said. The repetition of spending more than 45 minutes every day during a game week in special teams meetings, dedicated practice periods and walkthroughs started to pay off in that game and throughout this season.

It helped that Penn State was starting to replenish its depth that was depleted by NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, allowing starters like Allen and Haley to take on a larger role on special teams.

"When your starters or well-known players are involved and they buy in, the rest of the team buys in," Huff said. "And that's makes it easier to teach, easier to motivate and obviously you make good plays. Anytime you get the ball in the hands of your good players good things happen."

That is certainly the case for USC with Jackson. The junior cornerback who also dabbles on offense averaged 30.5 yards per kickoff return and 15.9 yards per punt return, ranking in the top six in the FBS in both categories. Jackson scored four special teams touchdowns, shredding Notre Dame for scores on a 55-yard punt return and a 97-yard kickoff return in the season finale.

Kicking the ball away from Jackson might seem like a reasonable countermeasure, but it's not nearly that simple.

"Directing a punt with distance, hang time and direction is a little tougher than people think," Huff said. "It's kind of like shooting a bow and arrow. `Don't hit the bullseye right down the middle, hit it six inches to the left.'"

Instead, Penn State will rely on the work it has put in all year long to try and keep Jackson under wraps, whatever the situation.

"It goes back to the time and commitment," Huff said.

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

NBC Sports

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

Forget about Chip Kelly for a second: When you think of the University of Oregon, you probably think of their uniforms.

Each season, the Ducks push jersey and helmet designs to new heights, and their trailblazing influence has trickled down throughout college athletics. It all started in the 1990s, when Oregon decided to get crazy - and it worked.

In the second episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast series, NBC Sports Northwest takes a deep dive into how Oregon sparked a fashion transformation across college football with a mascot change, and with unique Nike uniforms that helped push the program into the national college football coversation.

The episode features in-depth interviews with former Oregon football head coach Mike Bellotti, former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, and more.

The episode releases Thursday, June 11. You can listen to this episode and the entire "Sports Uncovered" series by subscribing for free wherever you listen to podcasts.

To catch every episode, be sure to subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" and have every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is available on the MyTeams app and on every major podcasting platform: Apple, Google Podcast, iHeart, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn

Listen and subscribe to the "Sports Uncovered" podcast:

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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