The Irish will face a very tough opponent on Saturday night led by the best kicker in the nation: Roberto Aguayo. FSU is a very formidable opponent when it comes to special teams and ND is going to need to be disciplined on Saturday to have success against them. Let's get to it.
Florida State Field Goal
Since FSU has the best kicker in the nation, I figured I should start with him. Roberto Aguayo, a redshirt sophomore, is the returning Lou Groza Award winner, having made 21 of 22 field goals and all 94 XPs attempted last season. Aguayo did not attempt a field goal inside the 20 but was 10 for 10 from 20-29, 2 for 2 from 30-39, 8 for 9 from 40-49, and 1-1 from over 49, making his long of 53. His only miss was a 43 yarder against Wake Forest.
This season, Aguayo is a perfect 27 for 27 on XPs and 13 for 13 on FGs, with 4 FGs from 20-29, 4 FGs from 30-39, 3 FGs from 40-49, and 2 over 49. He made those from 50 and 52 respectively. This means, in his career, Aguayo has missed a grand total of one kick. Just this season, in FSU's game against Wake Forest, Aguayo made 5 field goals, breaking a FSU record in the process for most consecutive field goals made (21). His 5 in one game was a career high.
There is no better way to put it: Aguayo is the best kicker in the country. If he misses, something has gone catastrophically wrong, as he has not even had a field goal attempt blocked. He does not miss, period. His career long is 53 yards as well, meaning if ND wants to keep points off the board, they need to keep Aguayo and the Seminoles outside of the 37 yard line. Aguayo is as close to automatic points as you will find in college football. It is tough to pick kickers in college football who will be NFL stars but this kid has all the makings of one. He is, hands down, the best kicker in college football right now, and arguably one of the best on a historical level.
Florida State Kickoff
Roberto Aguayo also handles the kickoff duties for the Seminoles. On the season, he has 46 kicks for 2,864 yards, an average of 62.3 yards per kick. He has 19 touchbacks and one kicked out of bounds. Surprisingly, only about 40% of Aguayo's kickoffs go for touchbacks (for comparison, Brindza is sitting at 72.5% touchbacks). Because Aguayo has a shorter kickoff average, there have been a good number of returns against them. FSU has allowed 26 kick returns for 474 yards, an average of 18.2 yards per return. The longest return against FSU this season was by Tyreek Hill from Oklahoma State in FSU's opener this season. It is worth noting that Tyreek Hill won the Big 12 indoor track title in the 200 meters. He is a FAST man. Now I will say, he does have some "GAIII" in him in that he liked to get in open field instead of finding a hole but still, the point stands:
Despite this, for the most part, FSU's kickoff team is average. The 18.2 yard average is low, but keep in mind that the average landing point for Aguayo's kicks is the 3 yard line. This means FSU is allowing teams to return it to roughly the 20-21 yard line. One or two better blocks and ND could end up with the ball past the 30. It will be tough but it is certainly possible.
Florida State Punt
If FSU's special teams has a weak link, this is it. Cason Beatty is FSU's punter. He has 21 punts on the season for only 830 yards, an average of 39.5 yards per punt. He does have a long of 50, only one touchback, 11 fair catches, and 6 of his 21 punts put inside the 20. However, that 39.5 average is surprisingly low. So far, FSU has only given up 5 returns, total, on the season. These went for 48 yards, an astounding average of 9.6 yards per return. However, the bulk of these were from Tyreek Hill (again) from Oklahoma State. His 28 yard return (32 yards total on the game) is the longest FSU has allowed all season. If you remove that from the total, the average drops to 5 yards per return. This is still a shockingly high yardage, especially in this day and age of spread punt formations. Here is Hill's long return:
Hill is crazy fast but the point is made from his return: find the holes, make blocks, and exploit the coverage team. He likely could've gotten further had he stayed in the middle of the field and dodged another block, but he did try a "GAIII" and just try to run around everyone. Still, it was a long return and was successful. For FSU, 5 yards a return (even though there are very few returns total) is high enough to make an impact.
Florida State Kick Return
Sophomore WR Kermit Whitfield is FSU's primary kick returner. He is a small player, listed at 5'7'' and only 183 pounds, but he is very good. Last year, as a freshman, Whitfield led the entire country in kick return average, returning kicks for 36.4 yards. He is very good. However, like with Ryan Switzer with UNC, teams have appeared to have caught on to Whitfield this season. He has 10 returns for 209 yards, an average of 20.9 yards. His long return is a short 29 yards. His average is more than 16 yards less than where he finished at the end of last season. He had multiple kick returns for TDs last season but has not come close yet this year. Still, his reputation speaks for itself and he should not be taken lightly. Here is his long return on the year:
While I hate it when ESPN does this with the floating camera (It's ok if there's a view but here you can barely see the blocks) but you get the general idea--if there's blocking and space to run, Whitfield is going to find it and exploit it. With Brindza's kickoff to touchback ratio very high, I am hopeful ND can keep Whitfield in check.
FSU has also utilized speedster Jesus "Bobo" Wilson at kick return, and while he only has 2 returns, his 26 yard return and 34 yard long lead the team. However, I think Whitfield is going to get the bulk of the returns on Saturday. To round out the rest, Kevin Haplea has 3 returns for 32 yards (long of 12), Freddie Stevenson has 1 return for 5 yards, and Karlos Williams has 1 return for 14 yards. If the Irish see anyone return anything on Saturday, it will likely be Whitfield or Wilson.
Florida State Punt Return
Remember what ND did with Ryan Switzer and Ty Montgomery on punt returns? They need to do it again. Rashad Greene, arguably the best WR that ND will face all season, is FSU's primary, because, haha, why not. He has 8 returns on the year for a whopping 11.8 yards. His long is 28 yards. Jesus "Bobo" Wilson is the only other FSU player to have taken a punt return, having 2 returns for 19 yards. That means both punt returners are averaging over 9 yards a return. Here is Greene's long return on the year.
ND is going to have their hands full. Some of the special teams players they will see on Saturday are the best in the country. ND needs to play the best to beat the best. Disciplined and smart football will win on Saturday. As always, I welcome your comments and questions below.