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Five Things // Improving the Special Teams

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Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.

Improving the Special Teams

To say that special teams has largely been ignored by the Captain would be an understatement. Clay McGuire was the special teams coach last year and did so without any sort of experience. When running backs coach Seth Littrell left for Arizona, Leach moved McGuire to running backs coach, the position he played at Texas Tech, and hired Louisiana Tech's special teams coach Eric Russell.

The point of this exercise is to take a look at where the special teams was last year and Russell's La. Tech teams from 2008 and 2007 as well as 2006, the year before he arrived at La. Tech (Russell was previously at North Texas).

Since I haven't seen a lick of La. Tech football in the last two years, I would think the argument could be made as to whether La. Tech's success at special teams is based on scheme or the players, and for the sake of this post, we'll give credit to Russell for the scheme since I do not have an opinion as to the types of players at La. Tech.

1: Punt Returns


2008 2008 2007 2006
Punt Return 9.90 (1 TD) 12.97 (3 TD) 13.92 (0 TD) 5.00 (0 TD)
Punt Return Allowed 11.93 (2 TD) 6.00 (1 TD) 7.53 (0 TD) 9.25 (0 TD)

 

This is fairly significant and it doesn't take any type of specialized degree to note that prior to Russell's arrival in 2006, La. Tech was simply woeful at both punt return and punt returns allowed. Things changed fairly quickly, and if there's one thing that I'm hoping with Russell's arrival, is that the Red Raiders can and will improve in both of these categories.

The key here in punt returns is who will actually be returning those punts for Texas Tech. In previous years, Leach has opted for the safe and reliable option, in Eric Morris and Danny Amendola. Both guys weren't necessarily game-breakers, but were incredibly reliable. It will be interesting to see if Russell opts for a similar player. Perhaps Austin Zouzalik or Cornelius Douglas are a couple of options.

Additionally, I'm interested to see what Russell does in terms of coverage, and I think all of these stats are something that I'm going to want to watch all season long, but this appears to be something that Russell can remedy fairly quickly. How happy would you guys be to see the allowed yards to dip under 10 and hover closer to Russell's marks at La. Tech of 6.00 and 7.53 per return?

2: Kickoff Returns

 


2008 2008 2007 2006
Kickoff Return 22.20 (0 TD) 23.42 (1 TD) 23.13 (1 TD) 21.70 (1 TD)
Kickoff Return Allowed 21.00 (0 TD) 18.09 (0 TD) 23.73 (1 TD) 21.33 (1 TD)

 

 

Slight improvement on Russell's part, although allowing less than 20 yards a kickoff return in 2008 is significant. In fact, in 2008 La. Tech ranked 8th in the nation so a few yards makes a difference in being a highly ranked unit and being middle of the pack, like Texas Tech at 59th in the nation. It's certainly not a stretch to think that Russell will have a somewhat significant impact here as well especially in terms of coverage.

 

La. Tech was also highly ranked in terms of kickoff returns, coming in at 17th in the nation last year. Again, this is something where a few yards makes a big difference as La. Tech ranked 17th in the nation in punt returns, while Texas Tech ranked 39th. Again, not bad, but not great either. Jamar Wall (20) returned a majority of kickoffs last year, followed by Detron Lewis (8) and LaRon Moore (7), and I've always thought that this is a perfect opportunity to get a guy like Harrison Jeffers some touches. I've always preferred a bigger return man, especially in kickoffs and if Jeffers could get two or three touches a game from kickoffs alone could be a real positive in his overall development.

 

3: Punting


2008 2008 2007 2006
Punting 35.65 40.49 41.30 38.18

 

This is one of those stats (much like any kicker related statistic) that you could probably say is related to the actual player rather than the coach, but since we're giving credit to Russell for the sake of this post, there's obviously some room for improvement here. La. Tech didn't light the world on fire last year in punting, coming in at 42nd in the nation, but at least the Bulldogs didn't find themselves at 118th. Yep, Jonathan LaCour, who exhibited a fairly strong leg his freshman year, had a sophomore slump in 2008 as he punted for a net average of less than 30 yards a game. Wind or no wind, that's unacceptable and I don't know how much Russell is going to be able to improve LaCour, but he is doing one thing that Leach didn't do last year, which is give LaCour a little competition. This spring, Donnie Carona, who has had mixed success (yes, I'm putting this lightly) at kicking, tried his leg at punting and although it may not mean anything during the course of the season, it might. LaCour probably needed someone to push him a bit and here's hoping that Carona can. I'd also love to see if Russell can get LaCour over any mental hump that he might have had, perhaps teaching him a little better technique.

 

4: Kickoff

2008 2008 2007 2006
Kickoff 65.22 (27.08% TB) 62.32 (7.69% TB) - -

 

You'll note that these statistics only go back to 2007 and if there's one thing that Donnie Carona did right last year, it was kickoffs. He may not have been great at getting it through the upright, but he was good at getting it to the endzone, putting a little over 27% of his kickoffs back for touchbacks. Although we were going to give credit to Russell alone, this is very much a single player type of statistic. Either the kicker does, or does not kick it a long ways and if Carona can do anything, it's kick it a long ways.

 

5: Place Kicking


2008 2008 2007 2006
Field Goals 7/13 (53.8%) 14/28 (50.0%) 12/21 (57.1%) 8/12 (66.7%)
Extra Points 70/76 (92.1%) 38/40 (95.0%) 25/26 (96.2%) 30/31 (96.8%)

 

As bad as the field goal kicking was last year, it was at least on par with what Russell was previously doing at La. Tech. Anyone who watched Texas Tech last year knew that Donnie Carona (4/9; 44%) was kicking the ball too low last year on field goals, giving opponents the ability to block his field goals relatively easily. Walk-on Matt Williams (2/3; 67%) was better, but really didn't have many opportunities. I have no idea how Russell is going to solve this problem, although something to keep in mind is that Texas Tech did signa preferred walk-on in Blinn CC kicker Brad Hicks. I haven't been able to find much on statistics on Hicks, but he did make 11 field goals last year and 52 extra points. As far as Carona is concerned, I think this is all mental and technique. If he could just have a little success, I think he's fine and I hope that Russell is what can get him back on track.