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Washington Husky Football Season in Review: Evaluating the Special Teams

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Pettis: So good. Placekicking: Don’t get me started

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dante Pettis stands at his own 35-yard line, ready to receive a punt.

Tristan Vizcaino stands at his opponents’ 35-yard line, ready to attempt a field goal.

Who is more likely to put points on the scoreboard for the Huskies? Mathematically, it’s Vizcaino; but you had to think about it, didn’t you?

Kick Returning

Pettis turned in an unbelievable season returning punts. He led the nation in every conceivable punt returning category, and his average of 20.38 yards per return was 5.5 yards better than anyone else in the FBS. During the first month of the season, Pettis averaged nearly 40 yards per return on his six chances. Three of those went the distance, and he would add one more return for a TD later in the season against Oregon. That brought his total to nine for his career, an NCAA record.

While Pettis was a weapon for Chris Petersen, UW didn’t get much out of the kickoff return game. Sean McGrew handled duties early in the season after Chico McClatcher went down, and averaged a modest 22.5 yards per return. Freshman Salvon Ahmed was made the primary returner in the UCLA game and never relinquished the job. Ahmed averaged 26 yards per return after taking over full-time duties, including an 82-yard return deep into UCLA territory.

Washington Kick/Punt Return Stats

Category Total National Rank
Category Total National Rank
Punt Return Avg 18.32 1
Punt Return TD 4 1
Kickoff Return Avg 22.52 34
Kickoff Return TD 0 NA

Kick Coverage

Washington’s kickoff and punt return coverage was solid, but nothing spectacular. They did not allow a touchdown in the return game, and were able to prevent their opponents from breaking long returns.

Washington Opponent Kick/Punt Return Stats

Category Total National Rank
Category Total National Rank
Opponent Punt Return Avg 5.27 33
Opponent Punt Return TD 0 NA
Opponent Kickoff Return Avg 18.74 25
Opponent Kickoff Return TD 0 NA

Placekicking

Okay, here we go.

Let’s start with the good. Vizcaino nailed all three of his attempts in both the Rutgers and UCLA games, made all of his kicks in the Apple Cup, and drilled the game winner as time expired against Utah.

Now the bad.

Vizcaino made 12 out of 19 field goals and missed three extra points. That is lousy. Freshman Van Soderberg made one out of three FGs. Also terrible. In fact, Soderberg’s two short misses (27, 21) came in the Arizona State game (a game UW lost by exactly six points), right after Vizcaino was presumably benched in his favor.

Kickoffs weren’t all that fantastic either, ranking near the bottom in both kickoff average distance and touchback percentage.

Washington Placekicking Stats

Category Total National Rank
Category Total National Rank
Field Goal Percentage 59.1 111
Extra Point Percentage 95.1 94
Kickoffs (Avg) 59.33 104
Touchback Pct. 20.69 122
Times Vizcaino & Soderberg made me throw shit at my TV 12 1

Punting

Joel Whitford performed fairly well punting the football for the Huskies. He averaged 42.33 yards per punt, but his one blocked punt in the Arizona State game was pure ugliness. The advantage of a “rugby-style” punt is to run to the open spot to kick it, not run with your head down and boot it right into a defender. Will Dissly may have blocked the wrong Sun Devil on the play, but it’s still on Whitford.

Jake Browning averaged 41 yards per punt on his three pooch punts, all downed inside the 10 yard line.

Washington Punting Stats

Category Total National Rank
Category Total National Rank
Punt Avg 41.67 66
Punts Blocked 1 67

Summary

Dante Pettis blessed us as Dawg fans with four years of great special teams play. To average more than two punt return touchdowns a season for an entire college career is remarkable.

Overall though, the Huskies’ special teams were only average in kickoff returns and punt/kick coverage. They allowed a blocked punt near their own goal line and gave up a first down on a fake punt to Utah on a 4th and 17.

But it was the placekicking that really drove this unit down. What you want out of a kicker is reliability. When the offense drives deep into opponent territory, you want to feel like at least three points are in the bag. UW fans never had that luxury, even on the shortest of FG attempts. Finding a kicker for 2018 has to be a top priority for Chris Petersen.

Poll

How do you feel about the special teams for the Huskies in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Dante Pettis: ‘nuff said. (Exceeded expectations)
    (92 votes)
  • 66%
    Placekicking: ‘nuff said (Worse than expected)
    (245 votes)
  • 9%
    They were about as good as I expected (Neutral)
    (34 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now