Last year, we invoked Marlin Brando's performance in Apocalypse Now to describe our special teams....the horror!
It was absolutely obvious following last season that this team would not contend for anything without improving the special teams, which were atrocious in 07.
For review, note these lowlights:
- We were last in the MAC in kickoff coverage.
- We also gave up 3 TDs in 40 returns.
- We were last in the MAC in punting. We gained only 29.4 yards each time we punted.
- Our 3.8 return was 7th in the MAC, so not such a big advantage, in fact.
- We were 11th in the MAC in kickoff returns.
- We were 10th in FGs and 10th (tied) in Xps.
- We tried only nine FGs and were among the league leaders in going for it on 4th down. At 90%, our Xps were also subpar.
- The MAC doesn't keep blocked punt stats, but we had 4 punts blocked, to go with 3 blocked FGs.
- We were 7th in punt returns.
Let's look at each aspect:
It cannot be estimated how important this is. For example, we were up 8 against Kent. It was late in the fourth and we had the ball. We drove into Kent territory but stalled out. A FG wins the game. Before, we would have been going for it, but this time, we were confident enough to line up for the FG and nail it. Really important.
In our eight conference games, we made 10 FGs in 12 attempts. We were among 8 MAC teams with double digit FGs, but tied for second in accuracy. We made every single extra point.
As noted, our net was 29 yards per kick last year. Frankly, it wasn't much better this year. Our net in conference games was 29.9. We had no blocks---so that alone was nice. There's no stats on this, but I seem to recall that Iovenelli nailed the other team deep in their zone a number of times which would effect his distance statistics. The average MAC team had a seven yard improvement on each punt. That's significant. But, our punting was steady and kept us in games. A big improvement.
This was pretty huge. We placed the speedy Roger Williams back there at one point, and he really turned things around. We moved up to 7th and Williams showed the ability to break one. Very important, and this was also a big help.
Perhaps the weakest point. Turnovers on punt returns went a long way to costing us the Ohio U game and the East title. We were 11th in this category. But, the average team in our league only had two yards more, and I'd be happy if we fielded every punt without ever fumbling.
Last year we were last, and gave up a sick number of return TDs. The MAC is keeping the stat differently now, using the net number of the depth of the kick minues the return. This is a much better measure. We were fifth in the conference. Our kicks traveled 55 yards, which was on the low end of the spectrum, but we only had about 17 yards per return, which left us with a 38 net. This also is very important. Good kickoff coverage is a sign of a well coached team, and you give your defense a big assist when they don't have to deal with a short field all the time.
Teams only ran the ball back about 2.6 yards per kick, which is pretty good. And, we held off the big play.
So, that's the story. The special teams turned from throwing games away to keeping us in games to sometimes putting the game away. And that's exactly what we need.
In today's football, you cannot win without competent to strong special teams. It just won't happen. I hope we see a second straight year of productive special teams play.