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Arizona Position Previews — Special Teams

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the special teams of the Arizona Wildcats.

Punt returner Johnny Jackson has the potential to give the Wildcats' offense excellent field position on Saturday.
Punt returner Johnny Jackson has the potential to give the Wildcats' offense excellent field position on Saturday.
Ethan Miller

Players to watch
K Jake Smith, P Drew Riggleman, PR/KR Johnny Jackson, KR Nate Phillips

Notable injuries/absences

Jake Smith saw limited action (two PATs, one missed FG) in 2009 as a member of the Syracuse Orange before he transferred to Arizona by way of Youngstown State. He sat out 2012 with a knee injury before being named the successor to Arizona's graduated John Bonano. So far this year, Smith is 4-6 on field goals with a long of 41 yards, and a perfect 17-17 on PATs. He has a big leg on kickoffs, having sent 14 of 24 attempts (58 percent) for touchbacks. Arizona's coverage unit seems to do its job well, too, as it currently ranks second in the conference in allowing just 17.8 yards per kickoff return.

Punter Drew Riggleman is a former walk-on who hadn't seen collegiate action prior to this season. He carries a subpar average, at just 39.9 yards per punt, but he's done a good job of punting the ball where it needs to go, having downed three of his nine attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. His longest punt of the season came against Northern Arizona in the season opener and went for 55 yards, so he has the ability to boot the ball downfield if he needs to. If John Ross III is receiving punts for Washington again this week, it will be imperative that he calls for fair catches instead of letting the ball roll like he has in the last couple of games.

Arizona has returned just three kickoffs (that's what happens when you play teams that can't score), so the Wildcats' kickoff return team might be the biggest enigma on the field Saturday, simply by virtue of them having not had many chances to show their abilities so far. For what it's worth, Nate Phillips has taken all three of Arizona's returns, and enters Saturday's game averaging 19 yards per attempt.

Johnny Jackson has returned nine of Arizona's 12 punts (Phillips has fielded the remaining three), and currently ranks 35th in the NCAA in averaging 9.44 yards per return. Washington will likely instruct Travis Coons sacrifice some distance on his punts in favor of adding height, as getting Jackson to fair-catch the ball instead of risking a long return will likely be worth the trade-off.


As always, thanks to College Football StatisticsESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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