ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Colin Lockett #24 of San Diego State runs for a first down as Thomas Gordon #30 of the Michigan Wolverines attempts to make the stop runs during the first half of the game at Michigan Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
You may have heard that on Saturday, the Huskies take on the San Diego State Aztecs at Century Link Field (if you're lucky and you don't live in Chicago like me, you might even get to watch it on television). We've previously checked out San Diego State's offense and defense, and today, we examine their special teams units.
Place Kicking: San Diego State loses veteran two-year kickoff specialist and placekicker Abelardo Perez, who was 23 of 37 (62.2 percent) on field goal attempts in his collegiate career. In addition, Perez was just short of rock-solid on PATs in his two years, kicking 101 of 105 attempts through the uprights. Taking over for Perez is Chance Marden, a four-year veteran of San Diego State's men's soccer team who has not played football since high school.
Kickoffs: As I mentioned above, SDSU must replace Perez, who in addition to his field goal and PAT responsibilities handled 156 kickoffs for San Diego State in his time with the team. Perez bombed 24 of those kicks for touchbacks last year, a figure that ranked him ninth in the nation; his average kickoff distance of 68.03 yards, meanwhile, was third in the NCAA. Replacing Perez is first-year player Seamus McMorrow, last year's 33rd-ranked kicker in the class of 2012. Replacing a player of Perez's production value is never a simple proposition, and at any rate, replicating that touchback figure would take a herculean effort from the true freshman, though the move of kickoffs from the kicking team's 30 to the 35 and touchbacks from the receiving team's 20 to the 25 will certainly work in his favor.
Punts: Handling punting duties for the Aztecs in 2012 is sophomore Joel Alesi. Like McMorrow, Alesi faces the difficult task of filling in for departed senior Brian Stahovich, a four-year starter whose 43.75 yards per punt average ranked 18th in the nation in 2011. Alesi will presumably see his first collegiate action on Saturday against UW, and again like McMorrow, it's not unreasonable to expect a sizable drop-off in skill compared to the position's output last year.
Kickoff Returns: The Aztecs welcome back junior wide receiver Colin Lockett (pictured above in last year's game against Michigan), who performed admirably for San Diego State in 2011, averaging 21.9 yards on 31 returns last year, including taking one to the house in the season opener against Cal Poly. Alongside Lockett in the backfield on kickoffs will be redshirt freshman safety Brandon Wright. He replaces the graduated Brandon Davis, another speedster who in 2011 averaged slightly less than a yard more per return than Lockett, and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown, his coming against Air Force.
Punt Returns: Atop the depth chart at punt returner is first-team all-conference senior cornerback Leon McFadden, who enters his third year of handling return duties for the Aztecs. McFadden averaged 4.1 yards per return on 70 attempts in 2011, including a long of 26 against Washington State. The matchup of a first-year punter in Korey Durkee against a third-year punt returner in McFadden could easily become a key subplot to this game.
That's it for this week's position previews for Washington's game against San Diego State. As I mentioned in one of my earlier previews, I plan on doing one of these series of articles each week as the season rolls by. This is very much an evolving work in progress, so please don't be bashful in the comments about telling me what you would like to see different about how I do these.