Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote the 2019 special teams review for the Miami Hurricanes.
I used words like “inconsistent”, “mediocre”, and “downright angering” to describe the Hurricanes’ effort on special teams in their 6-7 2019 campaign.
Major improvements were made in 2020 but the season was not without its share of “downright angering” moments once again.
Let’s take a look back at Miami’s successes and failures on special teams during the 2020 season.
Special Teams’ MVP: Jose Borregales
It’s hard to believe that the Lou Groza Award winner was not the obvious most valuable player on Miami’s special teams in 2020.
Despite getting a run for his money from teammate Lou Hedley, kicker Jose Borregales has to be considered Miami’s MVP on special teams this season. He is the first Hurricane in the history of the football program to win the Groza and finished the year 20-for-22 on field goals while not missing an extra point.
Borregales’ highlight of the season was his 57-yard field goal in Miami’s win over Louisville that looked nearly effortless.
Borregales is projected as the No.1 kicker available in the upcoming NFL Draft by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
The FIU graduate transfer stabilized a terrible Miami kicking game that made just 60 percent of its field goals in the 2019 season. He will be missed but hopefully will be replaced admirably by his younger brother Andres Borregales, a 2021 Miami signee.
Special Teams’ MIP: Lou Hedley
Alright, I’m going to cheat here a bit.
Saying Hedley is Miami’s “most improved” player on special teams is likely a bit of stretch. The term generally implies that a huge positive change in production or a huge improvement in the weight room, or something of the sort.
While Hedley did improve the average length of his punts from 43.9 to 47.2 this season, he was the same reliable punter that Miami had during the 2019 season.
That said, he was by far Miami’s second most important player on special teams as he had 20 punts of 50 yards or more this season and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on 14 different occasions.
Hedley concluded the season as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, a second team All-American and on the All-ACC second team. Not bad for a guy who didn’t grow up playing American football.
Special Teams’ Unsung Hero: Clay James
If Miami’s specialists both have superb seasons that are recognized on a national stage, there likely is someone helping them that the common fan may not recognize.
That person? Hurricanes redshirt sophomore long snapper Clay James.
James seamlessly handled the snapping for both Borregales and Hedley in all 12 games this season. Simple Kicking recognized James for his efforts.
Clay James was apart of arguably the best Specialist Unit ever assembled, that's why he is the Winner of the Simple Kicking Long Snapper of the Year Award.@ImClayJames@F5_Jose@LouHedleyy pic.twitter.com/XGduVEOC74— Simple Kicking (@simplekicking) January 8, 2021
Borregales, Hedley, and James formed a special bond this season and comprised arguably the top group of specialists in the country.
I was keeping this picture for a while, but i think today I have to post it. Two of this guys received major accomplishments today, but there is an important piece that deserve credit too. Congratulations to @ImClayJames without you, they can't kick the ball. You are a winner too pic.twitter.com/oBk3mU91rk— vivi (@vcmd38) December 22, 2020
Special Teams’ “Downright Angering” Moments
While Miami’s specialists were nearly perfect in 2020, the rest of Miami’s special teams unit was not.
A brief rundown of a few of Miami’s worst moments on special teams this season:
- Allowing a kick return for a touchdown against NC State in the second half in a narrow win
- Getting a field goal blocked in a close victory over Virginia
- Multiple (maybe near a dozen?) fumbled punts or other punt return gaffs
- Finishing the season ranked No. 121 out of No.127 in average length of punt returns
- Finishing No. 101 of 127 in kick return defense in the NCAA
- Finishing in the bottom half of the NCAA in punt return defense (No. 69)
While Miami was constantly changing players who participated on special teams because of the unavailability report, several of the above metrics are unacceptable for a program with the amount of talent that Miami has assembled.
2020 was Jonathan Patke’s second season coordinating the special teams. For the second straight season, Miami was not good enough on kickoff coverage, punt coverage, kickoff return, and punt return.
More so than kicking or punting, special teams coverage and returns are directly connected to coaching and scheme. The Hurricanes should be performing better in these areas of special teams with the stockpile of talent on the roster.
The Future of Special Teams
Miami will be doing a Borregales swap at kicker and plans on returning Hedley and James.
It is unreasonable to assume that Andres Borregales will immediately be kicking at the level his brother was with Miami. However, there’s no reason to think that Miami’s specialists will have a drastic drop off from their outstanding 2020 season.
Hedley will likely be solid again and Andres Borregales has similar leg strength to Jose.
Miami must make improvements in all other areas of special teams, however. Miami cannot continue to struggle covering kicks and punts and most definitely cannot have the errors on punt return that it had this season.