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Notre Dame Special Teams: Virginia Review

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We might finally have a punt return!

OFD Films II

Notre Dame won a thriller in Charlottesville this weekend over a tough Virginia team.  The special teams game features plusses and minuses, but mostly plusses.  Let's get to it.

ND Kickoff

Tyler Newsome handled all 7 kickoffs for the Irish on Saturday, booting them for 427 yards, an average of 61 yards per kick.  3 of these went for touchbacks.  Having been at the game and sitting in the top row of the stadium opposite the grassy field where the UVA students were, I can say that there was a breeze blowing towards us, which both kickoff kickers took advantage of.

Of UVA's 4 returns, Taquan Mizzell took all 4, returning them for 51 yards, an average of 12.75 yards per return.  I should highlight that the final UVA kick return factors into this, where Mizzell pulled a "John L. Smith" and downed the ball on the kick return instead of trying to create a play.  His longest return was for 16 yards.  UVA's average starting field position, not counting their block-in-the-back penalty on one of the kick returns, was their own 22 yard line.  That is most impressive from Tyler and put the defense in a great position to succeed.

ND UVA Kickoff

As I noted in my Preview, UVA had/has major issues with blocking on its return units.  This was no different.  As you can see from the GIF, #41 Farley made it through completely unblocked--nobody even touched him.  He overcommitted just a bit, but got Mizzell's shoelaces for the tackle.

ND Punt

Keeping with good things, Tyler Newsome had an absolutely stellar day at punter.  In a testament to the offense, Newsome only had 4 punts on the day for 223 yards, for an incredible average of 55.8 yards per punt. The only negative was two of these landed in the endzone for touchbacks.  Even factoring those in, a 55.8 yard average is incredible.  Only one of these punts was returned by Maurice Canady for 11 yards.

ND UVA Punt

This happened to be UVA's only return.  Newsome booted the snot out of this punt for 58 yards, out-kicking his coverage.  You can see, similar to the kick return above, #41 Farley overcommits and the return man gets by him.  However, #23 Tranquill was waiting for him and forced him back inside.  #29 Baratti makes contact with him and, in my opinion, arguably gets clipped before making a tackle.  However, #12 Butler was waiting for him and made a great tackle.  I apologize in advance for the choppiness of this GIF, as it was the only one that gave me fits in editing.

ND Field Goal

The field goal unit was probably the story of the day on special teams, with ND executing a fake field goal and with Justin Yoon booting 2 of 3 field goals on the day, from 32 and 45 yards.  He missed a 34 yarder.

ND UVA FG Miss Live

And enhance...

ND UVA FG Miss Close

It looks like this may have been a fault for two reasons.  First, the ball had laces facing towards Kizer, similar to Yoon's miss against Texas last week. Second, it looks, from this poor angle, like Yoon's hips may have been too open and he never got around the ball.  This was almost an opposite result of the pulled miss against Texas.  I have no worries, however, as Yoon was perfect on his other two field goals.  I am really pleased with his leg strength so far.  I had no worries at the end of the UVA game, as I fully expected Yoon to be able to make a field goal if necessary, provided ND get the ball inside the 35.

ND brought out the trickeration with the fake as well.

ND UVA FG Fake

This play was essentially a shovel pass power with a pulling guard to the left.  ND executed this perfectly and UVA had no chance of stopping it.  I loved the aggressiveness and the play call.  Now that ND has shown this, teams may be less willing to sell out on the block.

ND followed this up with some more trickeration on the extra point.

ND UVA FG Extra Point Muddle

ND ran what I refer to as the "muddle huddle."  Basically ND splits several players out as receivers on one side and the puts the kicker behind the OL on the other, with the snapper and QB in the middle.  Kizer needed to read this to see if UVA knew how to defend it, and it appeared that they did.  That said, he had Smythe wide open for a dump pass if he wanted to make it.  However, he elected to lower his shoulders and run, falling just short.  This miss ended up being a huge play in the game, as later in the 4th, UVA went up 1 with about 90 seconds left in the game.  Had ND kicked the XP, the game may have ended up in overtime.  Had Kizer gotten this one in, UVA would have been forced to go for two, leaving ND with the responsibility of forcing UVA to not score the conversion and if so, I would also be reviewing the onsides kick recovery.  However, Kizer worked his magic, throwing the winning touchdown to Will Fuller and leaving me with one less play to review.

ND Punt Return

As I noted in my Preview, UVA's punter has an incredibly strong leg and a tendency to outkick his coverage.  He did so all day against the Irish.  UVA had 5 punts on the day for 236 yards, an average of 47.2 yards per punt.  However, the net punt average was only 37.6, almost a 10 yard difference.  This was due in part to freshman return man extraordinare CJ Sanders, who ripped off multiple great returns on Saturday.  CJ had 4 returns for 48 yards, an average of 12 yards per return.  His longest was 30 and was a beauty.

ND UVA Punt Return

Absolutely fantastic.  Let's look at it from another angle.

ND UVA Punt Return 2

You may be thinking, "Well PB, all he did was just run around everyone."  And I would agree with you, however ND actually made blocks on this return.  It may not looks like they were run-blocking UVA's coverage team, but all a good return man needs is several yards, which can be gained from a simple forearm shove.  It is hard to tell where the tackler came from, so I went to my trusty source: myself.  I was at the game and, oddly enough, recorded one play on my cell phone--this one.

While I apologize for my fat finger getting in the way of part of this, you get the idea of the blocking and movement of both the return team and coverage team.  The tackler in this play for UVA happened to be the middle protector blocker for the punter.  This was an excellent play by CJ and he was, quite literally, one man from breaking this thing for a touchdown.  This is evidence that if ND can block the coverage team and give CJ room to work, he can make things happen.

Additional Bro Notes:

  • I tried tweeting this during the game, but my recording of the above play killed my phone's battery; one of the biggest plays in this game, in my opinion, was the field goal miss from Ian Frye for UVA.  This was the first field goal attempt at home for, in my opinion, the third-best kicker in the country, and he missed it.  This was absolutely a huge play, as this guy basically makes everything.  Granted, the miss ended up being redundant, as ND ended up scoring a TD anyways at the end of the game.  However, it may have changed UVA's defense at the end if they knew ND had to score a TD and not simply get into FG range.