The Miami Hurricanes stumbled to a 7-6 record in Mark Richt’s third and final season as head football coach. His offense was putridly ranked 77th overall by the S&P+, but one of the biggest lapses in program management was in the kicking game. The Hurricanes finished the 2018 season ranked 97th in special teams efficiency per the S&P+. Special teams coach Todd Hartley did a great job of recruiting and grooming tight ends but failed in the end as the special teams coordinator with Miami.
The Hurricanes were bad in the punt game all season from punt protection to coverage and the actual physical punting itself. Over Zach Feagles short time at Miami it routinely felt like he shanked punts at the least opportune time in some of the biggest moments. Then he would inexplicably launch an NFL looking punt off of his foot that would flash his legacy talents. Feagles averaged 38.9 yards per punt while splitting time with Jack Spicer. Spicer, who adopted a rugby style punt late in the season, averaged 37.7 yards per punt.
Bubba Baxa actually did a better job as a rookie placekicker than I expected or recalled. Baxa finished 45-of-46 on extra points and 9-of-12 on field goals. 75% seems like a low number but of his three misses, two came from 40-49 yards out (he also made a field goal from that distance). Baxa also logged 41 touchbacks on 69 kicks while averaging 61.3 yards per kickoff.
The return game was an area where the Hurricanes flashed their athletic ability. Coral Gables and the Greentree Practice Fields have always been known for having big time athletes on kick and punt returns. Names like Santana Moss, Kevin Williams, Devin Hester, Randal Hill and Andre Johnson have returned kicks for The U in the past.
In 2018, Deejay Dallas and Jeff Thomas handled the bulk of the kickoff and punt return duties. Dallas averaged a solid 21.6 yards per return on the season while Thomas averaged 26 yards per kick return. Neither scored a touchdown, which hurts, however both scored a touchdown on punt returns. Dallas averaged 17.4 yards per punt return while Thomas averaged an impressive 24.6 yards per return.
Look ahead to 2019
Bubba Baxa will be improved moving forward and that’s a good sign for the ‘Canes because as we know- kicking wins championships. The Miami Hurricanes have always won their national titles with elite kickers such as Todd Sievers and Carlos Huerta. The punt team should improve as Miami brought in Louis Hedley the Aussie from City College of San Francisco.
In the return game, sadly Miami loses elite athlete Jeff Thomas. Deejay Dallas returns and with a new strength coach I would like to see him 10 pounds lighter and more agile for returns. Running back Lorenzo Lingard hopefully bounces back from injury and can contribute in the kick return game moving forward.