With the 2012 season at a safe distance in the rear-view mirror, it's time to take one last look at how the Huskies did. Each day we'll take a look at a position group and assess their performance and assign a grade for the season. I've invited other Dawg Pound contributors to participate so we have a range of opinions.
First up we look at the Special teams:
Kirk: When you think about the Washington special teams in 2012, chances are you think about Travis Coons missing that field goal on the last play of regulation in the Apple Cup which allowed the game to go into overtime, where the Cougs would complete an 18 point comeback to win on their own field goal. Or you might think of the short kick off and the poor kick coverage at the end of the Las Vegas Bowl that put Boise State in a great position to drive into position to kick a game-winning field goal with just a minute left to play. Those plays unfortunately weren't just isolated incidences, but punctuation marks of a unit that did not do well as a group in 2012.
It's unfortunate that so many will remember the missed FG by Coons in the Apple Cup, because the JC transfer actually had a fair season for the Huskies. Or more accurately, he was able to step up in multiple cases to help the Huskies avoid disaster. Brought in with the expectations he'd handle the placekicking chores, he quickly had to take on double-duty as a punter when Fr. Korey Durkee struggled badly. Combined with his kickoff duties, Coons found himself running out of steam, and his kickoff distance suffered, and while he was a respectable 9 of 14 overall on field goals, folks will remember the critical misses late in the season. His punting average of 39.8 was not great, but he showed nice athleticism on multiple occasions to avoid disaster and get away left-footed rugby kicks rather than getting blocked (he's a right-footed kicker). Punt coverage was a mixed-bag - the overall average allowed was good, but they also surrendered two touchdowns, and the overall net punting average was poor.
Kickoff coverage was OK, but combined with poorer than expected kickoff distances from Coons the Huskies allowed their opponents better starting position and ranked in the lower third in the NCAA.
The kickoff return team seemed on the verge throughout the first half of the season of breaking a return all the way, but never did so and ended the season ranked 69th (middle of the road) among FBS schools.
The punt return team lacked explosiveness, and eventually the more electric Marvin Hall gave way to the more sure-handed Cody Bruns, who actually ended up providing the few moments of excitement in the punt return game as he had the longest return of the season (32 yards) and the best average.
Overall this group ranked just 98th (out of 124) in FootballOutsider's FEI index for Special Teams - not good. This is an area that needs to start becoming a plus for the Huskies instead of a negative.
Ryan Priest: Washington fans were unusually spoiled in 2010 and 2011 by the presence of Eric Folk and Kiel Rasp, who were two of the most consistent special teams players that the Huskies had seen in years. Folk forever cemented his name among UW fans with his game-winning kicks against USC in 2009 and 2010, and Rasp (a former walk-on) merely became the university's career record holder for yards per punt, at 44.4 yards per attempt. Fast forward to 2012, and it's hard to come to the conclusion that the place kicking and punting games were anything less than abysmal in comparison. True freshman Korey Durkee initially took over the punting job, but after averaging less than 37 yards per punt in UW's three non-conference games, he lost his job to Travis Coons, the junior college transfer who handled virtually all of Washington's leg duties during the season thereafter. Coons performed marginally better than Durkee in averaging 39.8 yards per attempt, but that figure still leaves Washington in the conference's cellar. As for place kicking, Coons' numbers weren't markedly different from that of Folk in 2011 in terms of statistics (Coons went 9-14, while Folk went 11-16), but while Folk was a reliable soldier in pressure situations, two of Coons' misses (in the waning moments of the Apple Cup, and in the fourth quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl) were major factors in what turned out to be back-to-back losses in decidedly winnable games.
Jack Follman: The Husky return game was as stagnant as I can ever remember and the kick defense was average at best, though they did create some turnovers. Coons had been solid all year but finished very poorly by missing a makeable kick that cost the Huskies the Apple Cup and then another makeable kick that could have been the difference in the Las Vegas Bowl. Punting was always an adventure and never reliable.
Jeffrey Gorman: Husky special teams this year struggled. Other than having good punt return yardage defense, the rest of the special teams were less than average, or worse. Only allowing 6.4 yards per punt return is a good number, but they gave up an average of 22 yards per kick off return, which needs to improve to under 20 yards for special teams to take the next step. Regarding kick off defense, the most staggering number is that the Huskies only kicked 11 touchbacks this season. K Travis Coons struggled getting the ball in the end zone on kick offs, and incoming freshman super kicker Cameron Van Winkle has the chance to grab the placekicking and field goal duties for the next four years. Coons was 9/14 on field goals which is a decent clip, but like all kickers, he'll be remembered for his misses not his makes, most notably the kick that sailed wide in the Apple Cup that could have sealed the game.
Punting was even worse. After record setting Kiel Rasp graduated, Coons took over and averaged a little over 38 yards per attempt, not a very good number, as the Huskies ranked 101st in the nation in this regard. Punt returning wasn't much better, as the Huskies only averaged about 6 yards a return. The truth is that the Huskies haven't had a dynamic athlete to be a return man come through the program in some time. The word is that incoming freshman WR John Ross is electric with the ball in his hands (as he showed all throughout the Semper Fi All-American Bowl practices), and should be given every opportunity to take the job, and give the Huskies something they haven't had in years. Kick off returns were less than average as well, coming in at 69th nationally with 21 yards per return. Last season the Huskies looked like they had a future kick off return star in WR Kevin Smith, but since his knee injury in last years Alamo Bowl practices, he hasn't been the same strong returner he was. The hope is that with Ross, and a healthier Smith, the Huskies will have some good options on special teams next year.
When Travis Coons signed with the Huskies from a JC, the expectations here very high. The crucial missed field goals, inability to drive kick offs into the end zone, and below par punting marred special teams this year. Cameron Van Winkle is a top high school kicker, and the Huskies are very fortunate he's in state and elected to stay home. Lastly, each season the Huskies have continued to get noticeably longer, faster, and stronger, all of which should aid the coverage units. Provided Van Winkle shows why he was so coveted in high school (he's one of the early enrollees who will be here for spring practice), expect overall special teams play to take a step forward next season.
Editor's note - please welcome Jeffrey to our writing team. He's a recent UW grad with an interest in sports journalism. We're happy to have him contributing to the site!