Of all the positions where Penn State had to reload following its 2008 Big Ten championship, none was more important than place-kicker.
After all, four-year starter Kelly was the most productive kicker in conference history, setting the conference's record for field goals and kicking points scored.
Heading into this week's road trip to Michigan, his replacement, Collin Wagner, has hit just 60 percent (6 of 10) percent of his attempts. His longest field goal was a 47-yarder that just cleared the crossbar while he had two misses, from 48 yards against Iowa and 49 yard last weekend vs. Minnesota, which fell short of the crossbar.
Wagner's range at State College Area High was about 47 yards, as he didn't get many opportunities to kick 45-plus yard field goals.
I think I hit 47 once and then I hit it again, but it was called back because somebody was offside, Wagner said. I hit a couple more from 45 in high school but our coach [Al Wolski] didn't really like to go for [the field goal] from back there, so we didn't really kick much.
He has made all 27 extra points attempts this year. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Wagner has done a good job and that his misses have been caused by poor kicking conditions.
I think he's doing fine, Paterno said.
I don't see any different game than you guys see. Two out of three [misses]
I think he was right on target. I don't know sometimes whether you appreciate the weather factor.
The ball is slippery, turf gets a little bit slippery, the kid's got to be more careful in his steps, the snapper has to be a little bit more concerned with not letting that ball go too soon because it might slip on him and the whole bit.
So it's a little bit tougher and we've had five games in a row we haven't had good [weather], Paterno added.
I think Wagner, under the conditions, has done very well.
Wagner agreed with Paterno, saying that especially against Iowa and Minnesota the field was wet and he had to shorten his stride in order to make sure he did not slip.
The redshirt junior, who walked on to Penn State after receiving interest (but no scholarship offers) from Navy, Temple and Bowling Green, has been criticized for his kickoffs this year. He has averaged 64.6 yards on his 40 kickoffs this season while recording just five touchbacks. At this point in the season last year, Kelly had eight touchbacks on 50 kickoffs.
Wagner is aware of the criticism regarding his kickoffs, even though the Lions rank fourth in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage.
Yeah, I've heard it, but you can't really worry about it, Wagner said. It's just one of those things you have to block out and work through.
If the Nittany Lions need Wagner for a game-winning, last-minute field goal in the final five games of the regular season, it will be a new experience for him. He was asked if he ever had a memorable field goal like that while kicking at State College.
Umm, no, actually, he said. I did not.