Monday, August 31, 2015

Football 2015: Preview Special Teams

If you read this blog, you know that I am a believer in the importance of special teams.  Half of the debacle of the Brandon years consisted of games thrown away on special teams mistakes.  Similarly, in the early Clawson years we lost a game by a missed XP and we certainly learned how important it can be to be able to nail a FG in the middle of the 4th Q when you can make it a two score game.

The good news is that the Falcons are in excellent shape on special teams, maybe as good as any team in the conference.  In fact, Phil Steele ranks BG as having the best special teams in the conference.

That starts at PK.  Tyler Tate is just a true weapon.  He was 23 of 29 last year for 79%, which was the 3rd best percentage in the MAC.  The only kicker to make more FGs was Secor with BSU.  Perhaps most importantly, he was 5 of 7 past 40, which is excellent.  I think we'd all like him to attempt fewer FGs as the offense gets into the end zone more, but Tate is the best player at this position in the conference.

Speaking of something we'd like to do less of....let's talk about punting.  BG punted 82 times last year, which is 15 more than the next nearest team in the MAC.  I would be shocked if that's not a school record.  The good news is that our new punter--Joe Davidson--got a lot of practice.  He was also very solid. He was third in the MAC in yardage and net punting.  Phil Steele ranks him as the top punter in the MAC.  Here's a stat for you.  Out of those 82 punts, 24 ended up inside the 20 and only 3 as touchbacks.  Again, success this year would be continued quality in punting with less quantity.

Moving to the return teams...starting with kickoffs.  BG was not especially strong on these.  Clint Stephens and Ronnie Moore handled most of them, with Stephens being slightly better and adding a score.  BG was 7th in the MAC in kick returns.  The depth chart doesn't say who will be returning kicks, so we're left to guess a little.  Having said that, with the kind of players we are recruiting, there should be no shortage of guys who can fill this role and I'd expect BG to finish higher than 7th.

BG returns the conference's top punt returner as well in Ryan Burbrink.  BG led the MAC in punt returns with 10.2 yards per return last year and was the only team to score twice on a punt return.  Teams are increasingly punting in a way that limits returns, and BG had only 16 returns in 14 games, making those two scores even more impressive.  Burbrink is very dangerous in space and teams are accounting for him when they punt.

On kick coverage, BG was 12th in kickoff coverage.  The kicks themselves averaged 58 yards from Anthony Farinella, who returns, and that was 8th in the MAC.  BG kicked off 86 times, second in the MAC, and yet only had 15 touchbacks.  In comparison, Ball State had 29 TBs on only 74 kickoffs.  UT had 37 touchbacks on 86 kicks.  So, when you've got guys running around you're going to end up over the 25 more than you'd like to.  The difference is not that big a deal.  Teams started on the 28 on average against BG and around the 23 for UT, who led the MAC.

On punt coverage, BG gave up only 7 yards per return.  There were 0 TDs and only a 40 yard long.

Honestly, this is as good as special teams have looked in a while and is certainly a strength as BG attempts to get back on the winning side at Ford Field in December.

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