James Snook-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the special teams of the Oregon Ducks.
Today's final look at the Oregon Ducks focuses on their special teams attack. Washington's task can be summed up as such: 1) Wrap up and make gang tackles in the open field, and 2) For the love of all that is good in this world, do not kick the ball to De'Anthony Thomas.
Place Kicking: Rob Beard is again handling field goal duties for the Ducks, regaining the job that he lost to Alejandro Maldonado last season. Oregon's field goal unit was shaky to start out the year, including allowing Tennessee Tech to block a 25-yard attempt, but has since settled down, with Beard showing his versatility by hitting all three of his attempts against Pac-12 opponents and catching a two-point conversion against Arizona out of a swinging gate formation.
Kickoffs: The aforementioned Maldonado, a junior, is the Ducks' kickoff specialist this year, returning in a role that he won in 2011. Oregon has kicked off 34 times, more than any other team in the nation (the next highest number belongs to North Carolina, with 29), which speaks more than anything to the efficiency of the team's offense and skews the unit's statistics somewhat, but it should be noted that the Ducks' allowance of about 20 yards per return is hardly elite. Especially on the road, it will be key for the Washington kickoff return team to take the wind out of the sails of the Autzen crowd if the Huskies hope to keep the game close for the game's entire 60 minutes.
Punts: Four-year starter Jackson Rice is back for his final tour of duty in an Oregon uniform this year, and though his average of 37.5 yards per punt is less than stellar, it belies his ability to pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory, as 9 of Rice's 18 punts have been downed inside the opposing team's 25 yard line this year. Meanwhile, Rice's supporting cast has been stellar, as Oregon's punting unit allows a meager four yards per return, good for 29th in the nation.
Kickoff Returns: Oregon's kick return squad has been suspiciously quiet so far, with leading returners De'Anthony Thomas and Bralon Addison accounting for an average return of 14.3 yards between them. The importance of Washington's kickoff coverage discipline on Saturday can hardly be overstated, as giving up a long return to Oregon at Autzen Stadium is the kind of play that can swing the game's momentum irrevocably toward the home team.
Punt Returns: Thomas' return woes on the kickoff team, however, do not extend to his play in the punt return game. The dynamic sophomore has tallied 150 yards on 10 returns, including consecutive returns of 46 and 47 yards against Tennessee Tech. Washington's ability to tackle in space will be tested by Oregon like no other team has in this young season, as preventing the big play is paramount to the success of their game plan.