Happy Black Friday everyone. Here we are, the last special teams preview of the regular season. Hopefully you have some time to read about some special teams while fighting with the crowds for cheap deals. Let's get to it.
Southern Cal's kick return unit features a Who's Who of former Notre Dame recruits. Their primary return man on the season has been Adoree Jackson, who has 20 returns for 554 yards, an average of 27.7 yards per return. His longest return was for 100 yards and a touchdown, against Utah. Others that have returned kickoffs for the Trojans this year include Nelson Agholor (9 returns, 147 yards, 16.3 yard average, long of 21), JuJu Smith (6 returns, 51 yards, 8.5 yard average, 19 yard long), and Darreus Rogers (1 return, 11 yards). Here is Jackson's touchdown:
This was an incredibly simple kick return. Outside contain was lost from a fantastic block, and great lead blocking from JuJu Smith sprung Jackson up the sidelines. If Brindza keeps up his touchback percentage and the coverage team keeps its lanes, hopefully this does not happen.
This was the unit that gave ND fits last season and they look primed to give ND fits this season. Nelson Agholor is Southern Cal's primary punt returner and he is one of the best in the country. He has 18 returns for 191 yards, an average of 10.6 yards per return. He has 2 punt return touchdowns and a long return of 65 yards. I previously featured Agholor's touchdown return against Arizona State. Since that game, he has another against Washington State.
What happened to Wazzu here is the same thing that happened to ND when they faced Agholor last season; Wazzu lost outside contain. Once they lost it, it cost them.
Despite the fact that ND's punt coverage unit has taken massive steps forward this season, I believe that every single ball from Brindza should be angled out of bounds. Agholor is incredibly dangerous at punt returns. Based on the stats, Agholor is probably the best punt returner the Irish will face all season. Hopefully, our offense clicks so much that we don't have to punt at all.
ND Kick Return
Southern Cal has employed three kickoff kickers this season. Alex Wood has gotten the bulk of the work, taking 36 kickoffs for 2,274 yards, an average of 63.2 yards per return, with 11 touchbacks. Wood took all 3 kickoffs against UCLA last week and 7 of the 8 kickoffs against Cal two weeks ago. While it is unlikely that we will see him, Andre Heidari has taken 30 kickoffs this season for 1,844 yards, an average of 61.5 yards per return, 9 touchbacks, and 1 kick out of bounds. Kris Albarado has 1 kickoff (vs. Cal) for 54 yards.
Against the Trojans this season, opponents have 46 returns for 1,041 yards, an average of 22.6 yards per return. The longest return was at the hands of Ryan Murphy from Oregon State, who took a return back 97 yards for a touchdown.
Just like with Agholor's punt return above, Southern Cal neglected to maintain outside contain, and Oregon State took advantage of it. Southern Cal's average return is not necessarily high, but returns like this show that they are susceptible to mistakes. Hopefully they make one or two and ND can take advantage of them.
ND Punt Return
Despite the fact that Southern Cal has a good punter, if ND can get a chance at a return, it can be very successful. Kris Albarado is Southern Cal's primary punter (yes, they have used two). He has 52 punts on the season for 2,168 yards, an average of 41.7 yards per punt. His long is 65, and he only has 4 touchbacks, 21 fair catches, 14 inside the 20, and 14 over 50 yards. Albarado is a very good punter. He has a very high non-return percentage, as opponents only have 10 returns against the Trojans on the season. However, those 10 returns went for 171 yards, a very high average of 17.1 yards per return. The longest of those returns went for 51 yards, by Kaelin Clay from Utah.
Three return GIFs, three losses of outside contain. Utah would have most certainly ran this one back had Clay not run right into his own blocker. After Bryant's success last week, I am hoping for good things. Southern Cal does not allow many punt returns but if they do, Bryant and the punt return team can make them pay for it.
Andre Heidari is Southern Cal's primary field goal kicker. Surprisingly, he has not had many opportunities on the season. He is 8 for 10, with his only misses coming from 39 (in their opener vs. Fresno State) and 36 (vs. Oregon State). He is 3-3 from 20-29, 3-5 from 30-39, and 2-2 from 50+. He has no attempts inside the 20 and no attempts from 40-49 on the season. His long is 53. He is also 36-37 on PATs. It is safe to say that he is a consistent kicker, despite not having many attempts. If he misses on Saturday, I will be surprised.