No kickoff returns.
No field goals.
6-6 on extra points.
TWO ONSIDE KICK RECOVERIES.
All of that equals a relatively quiet day for the Irish Special Teams unit during the rout of the Pitt Panthers on Saturday.
The problems that Tyler Newsome was having in the punting game all but disappeared on the Heinz Field turf as the Irish 4th Down Leg Monster (new nickname I just coined right now) boomed his 4 punts for a +50 average.
Let's dig in!
Tyler Newsome was busy with kickoffs, as the Irish put up a lot of points. More points equals more kickoffs! Thanks Lee, now back to the game.
Again, as with last week, Newsome kicked another out of bounds. Because I do not wish to be redundant, I'm going to show what I think is a great angle of what Newsome's kickoff left should look like.
I think if ESPN hadn't cut away, you would've seen the ball hit the back left pylon in the endzone, which is where Newsome is aiming. Brilliant kick and something I hope he can be more consistent at because the Irish defense can not afford to surrender field position as we creep closer to a potential playoff spot.
Beyond that, Pitt's starting positions on Newsome's kickoffs were the Pitt 35 (OOB), Pitt 19, Pitt 16, Pitt 23, Pitt 25 (touchback), Pitt 25 and the Pitt 24. That means that the Irish were doing a good job in coverage and hopefully that will continue against Wake.
Bonus GIF: A tip of my fedora to ESPN, who gave us an awesome angle of Newsome's kickoff that went for a touchback.
Did you see it? The close up of the ball!
Wait Paul, that's not a GIF!
ND Kickoff Return (and Onside Kick Recovery x2!)
The Irish didn't return any of Blewitt's kickoffs because of two reasons. One, he booted 4 of them for touchbacks (Opening Kickoff, 7-3, 21-10 and 42-24) and two, because Pitt kicked onside. Twice!
Both were (somehow) recovered by ND. Let's look at them!
The first attempted onside kick by the Panthers occurred after Pitt scored in the 3rd Quarter to close the gap to 28-17.
Despite his last name, Chris Blewitt is one of the bright spots for the Panthers this season. He's roughly 70% at FG's on the year, including a 56-yarder to beat Georgia Tech, and he's only missed one extra point on the year.
This onside kick attempt is pretty much perfect, but for the end-result for the Panthers. Blewitt goes for the kick-to-himself strategy and lucky for the Irish, the ball takes a goofy hop to the left that prevents Blewitt and his adjacent teammate from easily recovering the ball. Kudos to Nick Watkins (#21) and ESB for diving at the ball but they were both fooled by the bounce too. It actually ended up in the hands of Coney (#4) who has been pretty solid at ST work this season.
Another couple angles:
Again, huge props to Coney for halting any Pitt momentum.
The second onside kick was expected, as Pitt had closed the gap to 42-30 and was going for the desperation onside kick.
It almost worked, too. Look:
My local community pool does a lot of activities for kids on July 4th. Egg toss, Water Balloon toss, belly flop contest, etc. All fun things to do that prove I lack any semblance of skill or talent at even the most mundane of sports. At least I'm decent at Halo.
I digress. There was one game that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was called Greased Watermelon and thats what it was. The lifeguards would smear Vaseline all over a watermelon and toss it into the deep end and whoever got it out of the pool got to keep it. It was awesome, and impossible. And, now that I look back on it, completely gross.
This onside kick reminds me a lot of that, even the grossness. This is not a good onside kick by Blewitt. The ball goes literally right to Farley, who overcommitted and missed the easy grab. As a result, it bounces off of him, right to Russell, who dives on it with Chris Brown only for the ball to squirt out back upfield right at a mob of Pitt players and Farley.
Again, I don't know how, but Farley ended up with it. My theory is that if you watch the end of the gif, you see Greer Martini come in and I think he was the one that helped secure the football into Farley. Just a guess though.
Either way, two onside kicks attempted, two recovered by the Irish!
ND Field Goals
We didn't kick any! Instead, enjoy a gif of all of Yoon's extra points.
I give you the lone FG of the afternoon. I call it, Pitt FG, as Directed by J.J. Abrams (that's a lens-flare joke for you normal people):
Newsome and the Irish punt team were much improved against the Panthers, as Tyler booted four balls for a total of 207 yards, a whopping 51.8 average. That would put Newsome at #1 in the nation! Even when you account the net yards (44.8), it would still be top in the country.
Tyler looked much more comfortable on Saturday. His drops looked better and his steps weren't muddled. It was a cleaner punt technique than we saw against Temple and it showed in the distance.
Newsome's best punt was a 57-yarder, but gave up a 17-yard return in the process due to outkicking his coverage. Nothing to really dissect from that one. So, let's look at his best net punt:
Newsome, standing on his own 10, booms one to the opposite 23 and is aided by a solid coverage team led by Daly and Josh Adams (yes, that Josh Adams). Jordan Whitehead has literally nowhere to go as the Irish Punt Teamers all stayed in their lanes.
While I think that the volatile winds at Heinz Field might've given him an edge, he still made the most of it.
ND Punt Return
I don't have much to say in this department sans for one quibble. I'll lead by saying that Pitt punted a hilariously high number of 6 times and Sanders "returned" three of them for a total of 18 yards. Long of 9. I write "returned" because one of them was Sanders sacrificing himself on a bouncing ball to save field position (I like this) but also fielded one of the punts at the ND 7-yard line (I do not like this).
I do like Sanders' fearlessness. I really do. But he has to watch himself fielding punts inside the 10 because he runs the risk of coughing one up and even Kelly would tell you that starting your offensive drive at the 5-yard line is better than having to trot your defense out again because you got overzealous with the football.