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Special Teams Review: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

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Some Good, Some Bad, Some OK

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

OFD Films II

Speaking freely, this was a difficult review to do for two reasons.  One, it forced me to rewatch the game.  Two, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the special teams performance against FSU.  ND performed about average to below average in this game with some high points.  While the unit has had its high points against teams like Rice and low points against UNC, amongst others, this was somewhere in the middle.  Let's examine what went right and wrong for the Irish special teams units on Saturday.

Notre Dame Field Goal

Let's start with the good.  Kyle Brindza made both field goals he attempted on Saturday, from 34 and 46 yards respectively.  Both field goals seemed to barely squeak through the uprights.


I understand these lines, given the angle of the camera, are not precise, and have a "HENNE WAS IN" aspect to them.  However, my point is to try and make it easier to understand kicking.  I have said in previous posts that the natural leg motion for a kicker is to have the leg swing across one's body.  That's why I am a believer in the hip-shoulders theory of kicking; a right footed kicker needs to set his hips and shoulders just inside the right upright.  Here, Kyle likely did it towards the middle, thus squeaking the ball by the uprights and not straight down the middle.  I understand this is a ticky-tack way of looking at it because a make is a make, but this is what I think happened with those kicks. Happily, both went in, and those six points gave the Irish a chance at the end of the game to win it.

Notre Dame Kickoff

Notre Dame did an above-average job of covering kickoffs on Saturday.  Kyle had 6 kickoffs for 376 yards, an average of 62.7 yards per kick, one kick went out of bounds and two were touchbacks.  Of the three returns, Bobo Wilson took one for 20 yards, and Kermit Whitfield took the longest and shortest: one for 14 and one for 30.  Let's take a look at both.


As you can see from the GIF, this kickoff succeeded for nothing more than simple blocking, following blockers, and a really terrible/unfortunate missed tackle by Mathias Farley.  While he did miss this one, he was responsible for the short kick return below:


This short return was mostly the product of Mathias Farley and three terrible decisions by the FSU return team.  As you can see from the GIF, Farley runs in absolutely unblocked.  This was certainly helped by the fact that three of FSU's return team (highlighted in the GIF) failed to block a single person, simply running through the kickoff team without so much as a forearm shove.  John Turner also did a great job at fighting off of his man to help Farley with the tackle.  Fantastic angle.  If only that had happened on the long return but no harm, no foul.  With how ND's defense played on the first drive of the 2nd half, the difference in field position likely would not have mattered.

As you can see, ND allowed a long return but for the most part, held the FSU kick return team in check.  Also, considering the missed tackle on that kick return, the team did hold FSU to only a 30 yard return.  This was a similar but better performance to Stanford and about on par with how ND has performed this season from the kickoff tee, but improving.  A solid B+ to A- performance.  Halfway through the season, I feel comfortable saying I can see, going forward, kickoffs resulting mostly in touchbacks, with a scattered good return amongst bad ones.  If ND can keep that "scattered good return" to sub 30 yards, I will be a happy blogger.

Notre Dame Punt

Kyle Brindza had a fantastic day at the punter position.  He had 3 punts for 131 yards, an average of 43.7 yards per punt, a long of 52 and 2 inside the 20.  None of his punts were touched back.

Rashad Greene, FSU's fantastic wide receiver, had only one return, but it was a great one, for 17 yards.


I was going to annotate this but I think it is important to watch this one in full speed.  Greene catches the punt and the first guy down, Cam McDaniel, does not properly break down, allowing Greene to simply run by him.  This was compounded by the fact that the 2nd and 3rd men down, Greer Martini and James Onwualu, also overran Greene and took poor angles.  Thankfully, John Turner and CJ Prosise maintained contain and forced Greene to run in between them, forcing a tackle.  ND was very lucky that they, at the very least, created a tunnel, of sorts, and bottled Greene up this way.  Had he broken this outside the contain, you can see that there is nothing but open field ahead of him, especially to the top-side of the field.

Notre Dame Kick Return/Florida State Field Goal

Roberto Aguayo should honestly be a Heisman candidate, and Saturday solidified that opinion for me.  Aguayo made his only field goal attempt from 28 yards and was perfect from the extra point block. From the kickoff tee, he had 6 kickoffs for 370 yards, an average of 61.7 yards per kick, with two touchbacks.   More importantly, Aguayo was able to direct his kickoffs away from Amir Carlisle.  I thought this was an interesting strategy because while Amir Carlisle is good, he is not at the level of Ty Montgomery (yet).  Still, Aguayo realized that he could make an impact against ND's special teams' unit and did so.  Amir only ended up with one return of the four and while it went for only 18 yards, it did get ND to the 32 yard line (Aguayo's worst kick of the night).  Cam McDaniel took the other three returns for 49 yards, an average of 16.3 yards per return.  ND's field position from these three returns was the 22, 16, and 17 yard lines.  Oddly enough, all three ended up with ND getting points (technically, McDaniel's 20 yard return drive ended with the Golson INT but ND got the ball back on the very next play).  Here is one example of how effective Aguayo and the kickoff unit for FSU were:


This was one of the worst blocked returns of the year.  As highlighted in the GIF, the FSU defender simply ran straight in.  This was helped by the placement of the kick near the sidelines as well as the kick's hangtime.  It is clear that the kick return unit was not exactly prepared for this based on how they blocked.  Amir missed his man and multiple ND blockers failed to maintain blocks.  In a testament to Cam's skill, he got this kick further out than he should have.  If the FSU tackler had been more effective, McDaniel would have been down at the 10.

Notre Dame Punt Return

Cason Beatty, FSU's punter, had arguably his best game of the season.  He had 5 punts for 211 yards, an average of 42.2 yards per punt, a long of 54, with no touchbacks.  Coming into the game, I thought ND could possibly take advantage but they did not really do so.  Cody Riggs managed only one return for 5 yards.  Here it is:


This one also has no annotations because the tacklers are not in view until well after they have beaten their men.  From what the replay shows, Nick Watkins' man runs right by him, forcing Riggs to keep the left side of the field.  While this is bad, I have to applaud him for not blocking in the back.  It is very easy to be undisciplined when beaten on a coverage team and Watkins was very smart to hold off and not shove him here.  A late FSU player comes in unblocked, and John Turner's man gets by him to bring Riggs down.  5 yards is not a terrible return, especially with this many defenders around Riggs.  Three years ago, this would have been fair caught.  Good job at Cody for holding onto the ball and hopefully going forward, the guys block better.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments below.