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Special Teams Could Win Miami an ACC Championship

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The Often Ignored Phase Must Continue to Improve

North Carolina v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Let me tell you about the last time my heart was ripped from my chest, thrown bloodied on the ground, and stomped on with the force of ten thousand rhinos. The heartbreak was not from shattered romance, but rather my beloved Miami Hurricanes. I still remember it well, there was 1:38 left in the fourth quarter when Miami missed the score tying point after attempt against you-know-who. Oh, the tragedy of what could have been. That crushing result on such a routine play perfectly highlighted how forgotten yet important the role of special teams is to avoiding the L and turning a good team into a great team.

In the alternate universe where the Canes did convert that PAT against Florida State, I believe the year would’ve ended by playing a different post-season game in Orlando. That miss was an unfortunate blemish that overshadowed what was otherwise a commendable improvement in Miami’s special teams’ performances. Going back to the most recent Dark Age, I used to shut my eyes, cover my ears, and yell when the punt/kick teams jogged to their marks. Miami had ballers out there: O’Donnell and Vogel were NFL caliber guys with Duke, Coley, and co. working the returns. But they weren’t the issue. The problem was the lack of consistency by the unit as a whole. In a game where field position is so critical, Miami got accustomed to giving away yards on the reg.

I’m not a numbers guy. My sabermetrics acumen is limited to 8th grade algebra, so bear with me while I attempt to prove a point with science. Let’s examine how the Coach Todd Hartley led special teams of 2016 performed vs. the previous five years of the Unspeakable Era. Before all the interweb-Einsteins out there attack the comment section, I understand I’m comparing one year to the average across five years. For now, this is all we have to work with, and like I said, me no do math good. Here’s the analysis of some important special teams goals, earning field position advantage and scoring points, and how the Richt and Golden years compare:

Kick Return

2016: 21.1 yds/return, ranked 55th

2011-2015: 22.6 yds/return, ranked 53rd

This is a draw. Credit due to Duke Johnson (miss you) and Stacy Coley for being v good

Punt Return

2016: 11.6 yds/return, ranked 13th

2011-2015: 8.8 yds/return, ranked 59th

Nice uptick last year. My experience playing Madden has taught me that 10 yds/return is a good benchmark to hit.

Touchback Percentage

2016: 59%, ranked 21st

2011-2015: 28%, ranked 77th

This was a noticeable difference. Tough to give up yards when the ball is downed in the end zone. *Note: Kickoff was moved up to the 35-yard line in 2012

Opponent Punt Return

2016: 7.9 yds/return, ranked 67th

2011-2015: 10.5 yds/return, ranked 91st

Punts used to give me anxiety attacks. No longer the case, praise be.

Kicks/Punts Blocked

2016: 5, ranked T5th

2011-2015: 1.4/year (7 total), ranked 42nd

This just makes me think of Frank Beamer.

Field Goal Pct

2016: 81%, ranked 30th

2011-2015: 78%, ranked 40th

Not bad considering Miami caught a mid-year case of the yips. Hope there’s a vaccine for that


2016: No need to revisit this

2011-2015: 98%, ranked 24th (missed 4 PATs in 2014)

Still hurts.

This ground breaking data analysis shows that Miami’s special teams is generally trending upward, a statement with which I agree. To be fair, let me play devil’s advocate for a hot minute. Richt’s special teams at Georgia from 2011-2015 were definitely not good. In fact, they treaded near the bottom third of the rankings pool in most these of statistical categories. As the saying goes “new year new you”, you’ve got to hope Mark took that to heart. Signs are pointing to Miami’s improvement continuing into 2017. A big reason for that is there shouldn’t be questions in the kicking game as the Canes return Bad-and-Boujee-Badgley, an all ACC second teamer with first teamer lettuce. Punting duties will also rest upon talented feet as the battle for starter will play out between two competent options: Under Armour All-American Zach Feagles and ex-Gator transfer Jack Spicer (I forgive you). An infusion of young speed and a few new options at kick and punt return will give Miami a fresh boost there as well. All in all, special teams have the chance to be a strength for Miami as Coach Hartley locks his players into year two of the system.

Who knows, a better-blocked kick return here or a made PAT there could be the little extra Miami needs to take that next step toward Charlotte. I’m confident that this year Mark Richt can go up to Tallahassee, string together some combo moves, get the special bar maxed out, and land a massive Ryu Hurricane Kick during primetime.