Friday, December 27, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Special Teams

Kansas State returner Tramaine Thompson is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Starters: The Wolverines are in pretty bad shape when it comes to special teams, but it could be worse. Fifth year senior placekicker Brendan Gibbons has been ruled out of the bowl game with a groin injury, and senior punter Will Hagerup has been suspended for the entire season, so all the kicking duties will be up to junior Matt Wile (6'2", 216 lbs.). Wile is pretty experienced for being a backup punter and kicker, but when it comes to kicking field goals, he hasn't been in many pressure situations. Wile is 1/3 on field goals this year, 5/5 on extra points, and averages 40.6 yards/punt. He's been the kickoff guy all year and gets a 49.3% touchback rate. Sophomore Dennis Norfleet (5'7", 169 lbs.) has 36 kickoff returns for 850 yards and a 23.6-yard average. Fifth year senior Jeremy Gallon (5'8", 184 lbs.) and senior Drew Dileo (5'10", 180 lbs.) have combined for 12 punt returns and 76 yards, so they're not much of a threat.
Backups: Redshirt freshman Kenny Allen (6'3", 226 lbs.) will be the backup kicker and punter, and he has 1 punt this year for 51 yards. Dileo has averaged 19.2 yards on 5 returns, and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (6'3", 196 lbs.) has averaged 18 yards on 2 returns.

Starters: The Wildcats have two excellent returners. One is fifth year senior punt returner Tramaine Thompson (5'8", 167 lbs.), who has averaged 20.2 yards/return this year with a long of 79 yards; teams respect him so much that they've only given him a chance to return 9 punts. Junior Tyler Lockett (5'11", 175 lbs.) is the kick returner with a 25.5-yard average, and while he hasn't yet returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2013, he had 2 scores in each of the past two seasons. Redshirt junior Mark Krause (5'11", 218 lbs.) averages 41.3 yards/punt and has landed 17 inside the 20-yard line. Redshirt sophomore Jack Cantele (6'0", 193 lbs.) is 11/13 on field goals and 40/41 on extra points, but he was injured prior to KSU's final regular season game and may not be back for the bowl game.
Backups: Thompson has returned 2 kickoffs this year, but one was for a 96-yard touchdown. Backup kicker Ian Patterson (5'11", 233 lbs.), a redshirt freshman, is 2/3 on field goals and 8/8 on extra points; he has also taken over kickoff duties, where he has a touchback rate almost twice as high as Cantele's.

The Wolverines haven't been particularly strong on special teams under Brady Hoke, but they haven't been terrible, either. They did block a punt and return it for a touchdown against Central Michigan, and the game-tying end-of-regulation field goal against Northwestern was the #4 play in the Big Ten this year, according to BTN Live. Unfortunately, battle-tested Brendan Gibbons is out, and Wile has been erratic as a kicker and as a punter. Michigan's return games have been exciting but fruitless with Norfleet, Gallon, and Dileo. Meanwhile, Kansas State has a couple all-conference-caliber returners in Lockett and Thompson, and Cantele is a solid kicker if healthy. The Wolverines did allow a punt return touchdown to South Carolina's Ace Sanders in last year's bowl game, so they've been susceptible to special teams breakdowns at times. Wile might be able to negate Lockett's return abilities because he's pretty good at kicking touchbacks, and Michigan has some aggressive players on punt coverage, but overall, this is looking like an advantage for . . .

ADVANTAGE: Kansas State

1 comment:

  1. Really blows that Gibbons is out. I am also saddened by the news that we are forced to play freshman at QB. Argh.