clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Special Teams: BYU Preview

Here with your weekly punting and kicking fix.

Barry Cronin

Ofd_films_banner_ii_medium

Notre Dame faces a tough BYU team this weekend that has some significant weapons on special teams. Let's take a look at what ND will see this weekend.

BYU Kickoff

Justin Sorensen is BYU's primary kickoff man. For as large of a kicker as Sorensen is (6'1'', 243 lbs.), he has only ripped 67 kickoffs for 4,287 yards and 34 touchbacks. That's almost a 50% chance of a return. BYU has allowed returns on 32 of those kicks for 759 yards, an average of 23.7, and one touchdown, a 95-yard return by Demarcus Ayers from Houston. The 23.7 yard return is not terrible but it should be noted that some of these kicks that were returned landed in positions where the returning team would be stuck inside the 25. Looking at BYU's last game vs. a FBS opponent, Wisconsin, Sorensen had three kickoffs, one of which went for a touchback. His first landed at the 6 and was returned 18 yards to the 24. His second landed on the 4 and was returned 27 yards to the 31. The chances are going to be there on Saturday for ND to return kicks so long as blocks can be made. Let's take a look at the return by Ayers from Houston.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

As I noted above with the short kicks, Sorensen only got this kick to the 5 yard line and Ayers has a lot of field to work with. There are no BYU players even on the screen, not even at the 30. Houston is wisely sitting back and you can see 8 of their players waiting to block.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

Absolutely fantastic job here by Houston to pick up assignments. There are a handful of BYU players running free but Ayers has a lane to the outside of the field because two BYU players have flooded the same zone (at the 22-yard line). Houston has 2 blockers for these guys and provided that Ayers can squeak by the free BYU coverage man at the 19, he has the entire sidelines to work with.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

Ayers hit the hole and was off down the sidelines. He got an excellent lead block from #30 but BYU did a great job of recovering, with #s 28, 29, and 4 all taking recovery angles to prevent a longer return.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

BYU was in position to stop Ayers but all three coverage men over-pursued. Ayers cut it back and now has the entire field with which to continue the return. He slowed down just enough to get blockers ahead of him and it was clear sailing to the endzone. Overall, a fantastic return by Houston. They took advantage of BYU losing their lanes, practically every Houston blocker kept their assignments, and Ayers was smart enough to wait for blockers after breaking the overpursuing coverage men at the 40. This is how you return kicks. Hopefully ND can take similar steps on Saturday and get a big special teams play because the chances are there.

BYU Punt

Scott Arellano is BYU's punter and is another good one. He has 65 punts on the year for 2,709 yards, an average of 41.7, only 8 touchbacks, 14 fair catches, and a whopping 10 over 50 yards, his longest being 73. Shocking to me, BYU has had 3 punts blocked this year. Georgia Tech, Utah State, and Virginia all managed to block a punt. Because Arellano has only allowed 10 fair catches, this means teams are able to return punts against them and they have done so with moderate success. BYU has allowed 24 punt returns for 187 yards, an average of 7.8 with a long of 40. Boise State managed the 40 yard return. I want to take a look at this long return as well as one of the blocked punts to see what exactly happened. I'll also highlight the Utah State punt block. Onto the video...

Boise State Return

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

BYU uses the spread punt formation. No surprise here.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

BYU's punt was relatively low and Boise State's return man had a lot of room to work with. He has a blocker to the top and the middle of the field is wide open with a blocker in place at the 45.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

The return man chose the middle path and with blockers in place, a hole developed to the left-side of the field. You can see that he's making a beeline for it, provided he can get by the free BYU coverage man at midfield. If he does, he'll have a lead blocker (#6) with him.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

And he did. #6 is lead blocking for the return man and he has the sidelines plus two men (one being the punter) to beat.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

And the return man makes his fatal error on the return. He was looking towards the inside of the field and neglected to follow his lead blocker down the sidelines (you can see #6 yelling, probably, "What are you doing!?"). The Boise blocker on #57 for BYU couldn't hold him and he was able to grab onto the return man to stop the return. BYU really lucked out here. If the Boise return man had simply broken for the sidelines, he probably would have taken this one back.

Utah State Blocked Punt

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

BYU rushed 3, as most teams do, to account for the blockers. On a side note, for those who watched the UCLA-Washington game and saw the fake, a rush like this would have prevented that fake from succeeding. Because the rear blockers on that play moved forward, the fake was obvious, and they could have prevented the punter from rushing for a first down. However, they backed up for a return and the punter had wide open field to get a first down.

Screen_shot_2013-11-17_at_10

And what is somewhat inexplicable to me, the right rear blocker just let his guy go untouched to the punter. BYU is really lucky that this punt was not completely blocked (it ended up going forward and bouncing for a 31 yard net). This is not the only time this has happened to BYU this year and it is possible we could see ND with their first punt block of the season if they decide to take advantage of it. However, it may not be likely, as BYU has not allowed a punt block in over a month (last one to Georgia Tech).

Overall, Arellano is a great punter but ND is going to have their chances to return punts on Saturday (or should have their chances). BYU has shown a tendency to lose track of their assignments and teams have taken advantage of them. All of this depends on whether the return units decide to stick with their assignments and properly stalk-block.

BYU Returns

Scared is the wrong adjective to use to describe how I feel about facing BYU's returners. Concerned is probably more accurate.

BYU has utilized a trio of kick returners this season. Their primary guy is Adam Hine, who has taken 20 kickoffs for 590 yards, an average of 29.5 per return and a long of 90. Hine's long return came against Middle Tennessee State (he was tackled at the 10). Paul Lasike has taken 9 returns for 191 yards, an average of 21.2 with a long of 33. JD Falslev has taken 2 returns for 25 yards.

On the punting side, JD Falsev is BYU's primary guy at returns, taking 23 for 239 yards, an average of 10.4 with a long of 71. The 71 yarder came against, you guessed it, Middle Tennessee State, and went for a touchdown. Cody Hoffman has taken 5 returns for 49 yards, an average of 9.8 with a long of 23. Skyler Ridley has taken 2 returns for 13 yards, an average of 6.5, with a long of 10.

There is no nice way to say this, but BYU has some absolutely dynamic return men, probably the best the Irish will face next to Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma, Ty Montgomery from Stanford, and Nelson Agholor from Southern Cal. The Notre Dame coverage team NEEDS to play smart and keep their lanes if they want to keep the Cougars in check. That said, there are some bright spots. Middle Tennessee State, who gave up the most return yards to BYU including both long returns, is ranked 97th in kick return defense and 102nd in punt return defense. Of course, Notre Dame is 120th in kick return defense but who is counting. The point is BYU picked on a weak opponent and took advantage. Notre Dame needs to work hard on Saturday to prevent the same from happening to them. Let's take a look at the kick and punt returns.

BYU Kick Return

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_9

Hine fielded this ball about 1 yard deep in the endzone. He was credited with catching it at the goal line but to me, he looked about a yard deep.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Now, to Notre Dame's credit, most of their failures on kick coverage are due to overpursuit and to losing outside contain. They have never had a problem like this: no people in the middle of the field. Still, you have to credit BYU here because almost every MTSU player has a BYU blocker on them. Hine is at the 10 already and has a lead blocker as well as a massive lane in the middle of the field.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

At this point, several MTSU players see the writing on the wall and are taking recovery angles. The refs missed a questionable block-in-the-back at the 25 but Hine has his hole and provided he can blow through it, he has clear sailing. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you need to keep your lanes. MTSU has utterly failed on this return and it would take a miracle to salvage it.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Hine juked by the kicker but MTSU took great recovery angles to prevent a touchdown. What also helped MTSU is Hine is not a speed demon and was caught from behind. Still, the damage was done. BYU can return kicks well, has great discipline with blocks, and will certainly take advantage of tentative coverage much in the same way Navy took advantage of ND's tentative coverage. To succeed in this game, Notre Dame is going to need to play smart, much smarter than they have all season.

BYU Punt Return

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Well that certainly explains it. MTSU runs a hybrid version of the traditional punt formation. I have said time and time again that this formation will be the death of teams and in this game, it was no exception.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

And this is reason numero uno why the spread punt is the way to go. MTSU had two gunners to the top side of the field. The MTSU punter punted to the opposite hash and these two gunners not only weren't downfield to stop it, but BYU has 3 guys back to block them.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

This must have been like MTSU's version of the Southern Cal game for us. The BYU return man immediately took off for the opposite sidelines and has a wall of blockers ahead of him. Look at the freaking sidelines--absolutely ZERO outside contain.

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

Screen_shot_2013-11-18_at_10

This was probably the easiest punt return of Falsev's career. He made absolutely no moves and simply switched fields and rode his blockers. I would like to say that ND's punt team is a strength and this is not going to happen to us but we all say the Southern Cal game and know that anything is possible. This was practically a mirror of Agholor's returns against us, minus the safety angles. BYU knows how to switch fields and knows how to take advantage of suspect formations. Notre Dame needs to be sure to maintain outside contain and to get downfield quickly for coverage. They have two tough return opponents in BYU and Stanford left on the schedule and they cannot let up now. One big return could make or break this game. ND needs to realize this and play smart.

BYU Field Goal

Justin Sorensen is also BYU's kicker and is decent--not great but not Navy-quality bad. He is 16-19 on the year, good enough for 84.2%. He is a perfect 6-6 from 20-29 (makes from 24, 27, 23, 28, and 26), 8-10 from 30-39 (makes from 36, 34, 32, 36, 32, 31, 34, and 31), a perfect 2-2 from 40-49 (makes from 41 on both kicks), and 0-1 from over 50 (missed from 51). His misses this season came from 34 (vs. Utah), 52 (vs. GT), and 35 (vs. Boise State). I would not say that it is automatic points for Sorensen if he kicks because he has not made an attempt from longer than 41 on the season, but if BYU gets the ball inside the 25, points are all but assured. That said, ND's field is utterly atrocious, and with footing in question, anything is possible on Saturday.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.