Special Teams Preview 2021

Hate to start every paragraph the same, but whatever it’s a trend now. If you followed me on the other site, I had a couple pretty strong opinions about our special teams for 2020 heading into the season. The first was that it was a complete mishandling of duties to have your special teams coordinator (Jovan Dewitt) leave, who was a full-time assistant (which means he can be on the field during practice and coach during games), and replace the special teams aspect of his job with an analyst (who can have zero between the lines involvement during practice or games). We were one of only 5 teams in P5 to not have a full-time coach with Special Teams Coordinator in their title. To take it a step further, teams like Iowa and Wisconsin have special teams coordinators that that is their sole position/responsibility. They aren’t position coaches as well (even though i’m sure they help somewhere).

It was moronic. You either had to violate NCAA rules, or adhere to them and have your main coach for 1/3 of the game not even be able to talk to kids during practice or games. But even knowing that, I said that the analyst role would be a great move for Rutledge because “there’s no way we can be worse than we were in 2019.” According to FEI, we were ranked 123rd in special teams for the 2019 season.

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ncaa/fei/overallst/2019

So, really there was nowhere to go but up. I thought Rutledge (or any of us reading this right now) could luck into getting us out of the triple digits and it could be a feather in the cap.

But take a look back… we were 115th in the country with a full-time coach having the coordinator title, and we weren’t good. It wasn’t like we had things stabilized enough to move from that to just an analyst. Pickering our kicker was transferring so we were trying to find a kicker, and we were breaking in a new punter Cerni. The guy we got to replace Dewitt declined having the special teams coordinator title, so we were kind of stuck (interesting that he is who has it for 2021). You then fast-forward to the results we got for 2020 and while it’s not Rutledge’s fault that Cerni was out all year, you have to be damn happy that dude brought Culp up our way because without him we may have been dead last in special teams for 2020. Seriously, has anyone ever thought where we’d be if not for having a first team all-conference kicker? Again, just look back at the decision to not have a full-time guy do it when we were so bad the year prior. An analyst can’t be on the field, so if a kid like Isaac Gifford, Myles Farmer, Nadab Joseph, Garrett Snodgrass, anyone has a special teams question, where do they go with it? They can get it answered, but let’s be honest, there’s a bunch of people just saying “let’s address that in film study” or something of that nature. There’s no one that had any skin in the game, because there was no special teams coordinator. And inevitably who did we blame it on? The guy that can’t even coach practice? Come on.

But let’s dive deeper into when I knew things were completely off the rails. We were playing Iowa and take a look at these breakdowns:

Nebraska Kickoffs:

Culp kick to the 17, returned 15 to the 32 yard line (we decide we ain’t doing that anymore)

-Culp pooch to the 30 in the sun, Iowa guy bobbles but gets it at the 30 with fair catch

-Culp pooch to the 30 in the sun, fair catch at the 30

-Culp pooch to the 31 in the sun, fair catch at the 31 (so now we decide we can’t keep giving it to them at the 30 or better everytime

-Culp kicks to the 11, returned 23 yards to the 34

Iowa Kickoffs:

-Touchback

-Touchback

-Touchback

-Brown fields at the 2, returns 19 yards to the 21

-Touchback

-Brown fields at the 2, returns 19 yards to the 21

Nebraska punting:

Przystup punts 39 yards to the 36, Iowa returns it 8 yards to the 44

-Przystup punts 42 yards to the 23, returned 31 yards to the 46 (we decide to not kick there anymore)

-Przystup “coffin corner” punts it 35 yards out of bounds to the 40

-Przystup “coffin corner” punts it 32 yards out of bounds to the 13

-Przystup coffin corner punts it 37 yards out of bounds to the 35

Iowa Punting:

-35 yards and downed at the 2

-46 yards to the 35, CTB fumbles and Iowa recovers

I mean… read that. So Iowa did not have a ball less than their own 30 on kickoffs, conversely our best starting field position was the 25 when they just kicked it through the endzone. Wouldn’t that have been nice to do? There was over a 10 yard difference in field position when a return was made as well. These things add up. Then you get to the punting and we can’t cover, so we do “coffin corners” in the middle of the field and it’s just a complete train wreck. Meanwhile, the 2 punts Iowa have literally can’t end up better with a down at the 2 and a turnover.

Rehashing again, many of you remember we almost had Coach Snyder from KState (son not father) coming up here to help us out before the Trojans came calling to offer him a full-time position. USC was ranked 105th in 2019 for special teams according to that link (we were 115th so similar), in 2020 Snyder moved USC all the way up to 34th while we fell to 123rd. I mean, I know this is hindsight but not really because I called it idiotic when it happened, but is it really a coincidence the results we got? It’s why I get so mad when I hear culture, not his guys, etc., for reasons we weren’t good the past 3 seasons. There’s more decisions like this than what we are willing to admit.

Ok enough about how awful we were and how terrible of a decision it was to only have an analyst. This year we return our first team all-conference kicker for field goals and PATs, gotta feel good there. Having Cerni (scholarship player from Australia) able to punt should help immensely I would think. That just leaves kickoffs which will be between two walk-ons from Nebraska (which is why we should never have an issue kicking the ball through the endzone, there’s a dozen kids each year that can do it). Kelen Meyer, a true freshman from Ord, Nebraska, has an extremely strong leg (accuracy lacking but can develop while we have Culp). The other is Brendan Franke who has college experience as he was the kickoff man at Morningside booting 35 of his 59 for touchbacks.

From there, expect to see some scholarship star power on that kickoff team. Guys like Garrett Snodgrass, Nadab Joseph, Myles Farmer, Isaac Gifford, Toby Wright, Pola-Gates, and Kolarevic should see ample time on these teams. But the long and short of it is we have to be better here. We will be, there’s only 7 spots below us at this point. One way to go!

Comment below!

10 thoughts on “Special Teams Preview 2021

  1. Yeah you did wake up angry, haha. I get tired of hearing no depth. Is that a big problem in ST too? I watched one of the husker classics on BTN from the 90’s, admittedly completely different team. But these guys were flying down the field like hair was on fire. Mostly freshman and sophomores sprinkling in with some walkons. Is the depth that bad in Lincoln that we cannot field an even average ST with backups

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember seeing Carlos Polk set the tone for his entire career as a true freshman on kickoff team just going down and destroying people. Lack of depth is definitely a reason special teams can be bad, but IMO that’s more of an indictment year 3 or 4 on the current staff if that’s a reason we are struggling. I mean, they signed 79 guys in 3 years and that doesn’t include transfers like Tre Neal, Darrion Daniels, etc.

      I partly felt bad after I wrote it, but knowing how terrible we were last year not sure what to expect other than that lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While I really enjoyed reading your views on special teams, I was a little surprised that you did not touch on the return teams and who you thought might be returning punts and kickoffs. It seems to me that we have some electric return possibilities. Why has this not panned out. How is it that other teams can return a punt and we fair catch everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Getting Snyder would have been a boon.
    The special teams has put Nebraska in bad positions so consistently that even a marginal change would do wonders.
    Hopefully they finally have someone who can put the football into the endzone on kickoffs because that alone would help tremendously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, I look at that Iowa game and if we would have been better in even one of the phases I think we could have at least taken it to OT. I’m hoping Dawson manning things really helps us in 2021.

      Like

      1. I agree that a valid argument can be made that if a bunch of little things get fixed, we can see much better results. I am wondering if that switch is going to flip, but my belief at the moment is we always seem to be missing the little things while other teams adjust and we don’t. Hopefully I’m wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

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