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Rutgers Football Special Teams Review v. Washington

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There is Still Room for Improvement

NCAA Football: Washington at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The #WarBeforeTheShore brought with it quite a good fight from our Rutgers soldiers this past Friday evening, but despite a mighty effort, the Scarlet Knights fell to a stronger, more experienced opponent. The Huskies began to take back the fight in the second quarter, with victory declared 30-14 in favor of Washington. A lot has been said about the Scarlet Knights much-improved performance on all sides of the ball, particularly after a weak showing in 2016. While many will say the turning point in the game was OC Jerry Kill’s decision to punt on 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter, there were a few key mistakes on Special Teams that ultimately allowed Washington to take a 16 point lead. The Scarlet Knights were not ultimately able to recover.

Special Teams Review:

Highs:

  • Justin Davidovicz (#95) opening kick had great power and hang time. He would ultimately total 186 yards on three attempts with 1 TB. He shows great promise and has a great leg.
  • Janarion Grant (#1) is back! While he was somewhat stifled on his returns, just seeing him on the field gives a reason for hope.
  • Ryan Anderson’s (#96) punting skills received a standing ovation from fans in attendance. He averaged 44.4 yds. per punt with 1 TB and a long of 60+ yards. While Ash was disappointed in a few key elements of this punt that was returned for a score, his performance was a marked improvement on Michael Cintron’s (#94) 2016 average of 37.9 per attempt.
  • True to his promise, there was quite a bit of new blood on special teams coverage, and these players showed a lot of heart and focus. It is great to see special teams continue to be a priority for this coaching staff.

Lows:

  • Missed field goal by Minnesota transfer Andrew Harte (#97) on a 46-yd attempt. I was there, and unfortunately, this wasn’t even close. It’s unfortunate that we still don’t have a solution to long field-goal attempts, knowing the difference this can make in a game. On the contrary, Washington kicker Tristan Vizcaino’s attempts sailed right through the uprights with plenty of power to spare. I still miss Jeremy Ito.
  • The Anderson punt that led to a 61-yard return. While Anderson’s leg strength and range are a welcome addition to special teams, he needs to be more accurate in following the game plan and kicking to the desired area per the situation. In this instance, Ash has said the instructions were to kick it out of bounds. Ash openly expressed his disappointment in the post-game conference, but also the trust in Anderson’s raw ability and his potential to improve moving forward:

“We don’t want it to go 60-yards. That’s not what we want on our punt team, but we also want it to go out of bounds. So two negatives and one play, went too far and didn’t want to go out of bounds. It was his first game. He’ll get better. He’s a very mature kid and cares a lot.

But his first game on a stage like this; he understands what we want. Just on that particular play, you know, went too far, and didn't go where we wanted to go but still got to get the guy down. We didn't get that done.”

  • While I understand that Anderson outkicked his coverage, the lack of readiness when the receiver fumbled was unacceptable. Everyone seemed sure that Pettis would stay where he was and were ill-prepared when he saw an opening. The play isn’t over until its over, and to me, this was the real game-changer going into halftime. We cannot continue to allow such long yardage on a punt return, and this was a major area of improvement coming off last season. We have to be able to tackle more cleanly, and as Ash mentions “get the guy down.”
  • Bo Melton’s late hit in the second-quarter, which led to a 15-yard penalty and a personal foul. He showed quite a bit of athleticism in keeping up with Pettis, but this was a flagrant mistake as Pettis was already out of bounds. However, he is a true freshman playing his first collegiate game, so I believe this mental error will be fixed with more experience.
  • Punt return coverage was somewhat lacking in terms of creating openings for Grant and other receivers. We need to be able to better tie up the opposing line to gain field position and for those explosive returns we have become accustomed to from this electrifying Knight.

Standout Player of the Game

While Ash was disappointed in the execution of his 60-yard punt , and there is still room for improvement, to me Anderson was the Special Teams Standout Player of the Game. While his performance was not perfect, after last season’s issues with starting field position, his performance was a marked improvement. It’s clear Anderson has a great leg, and it's such a relief to not be regularly starting defensive series on the 40-yard line. It’s important to note that he was able to get off that punt within Rutgers’ own end zone, which of course had great potential for disaster.

With some improvement in these key areas, the potential is great for this new Scarlet Knight.

Final Grade against Washington: C-

Special teams performance was average at best and by far the weakest area of play in the Scarlet Knights debut performance. Let’s hope special teams coach Vince Okruch is able to work through some of these initial hiccups, as I for one am very excited about the potential of this team. The Scarlet Knights won the time of possession and rushing yards battles, and for most of the game controlled the line of scrimmage against a Top 10 team that could potentially win the National Championship. There is a lot to be excited about, and I can’t wait for next week.

Go, Knights!