Oklahoma Sooners: Nick Hodgson

During the summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 39 Nick Hodgson, kicker, 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Hodgson’s junior season was the first year he made a significant impact. He became OU’s kickoff specialist under new special teams coach Jay Boulware and excelled in his new role. Hodgson led the Big 12 in touchback percentage (62.3 percent) and yards per kickoff (63.7).

Impact in 2014: There’s no reason to remove Hodgson from his kickoff specialist role, as he’s proved to be among the Big 12’s best with his kickoffs.

Long-term upside: One area of improvement would be his ability to place kickoffs inside the 25-yard line whenever the Sooners want to try to pin teams deep.

Evaluation grade for Hodgson: C. The senior is a walk-on who has made an impact but hasn’t made the Sooners look silly for not offering him a scholarship out of high school. The Sooners generally ask kickers to prove themselves before a scholarship offer is considered, and Hodgson was no different.

Development grade for Hodgson: B. Give OU credit for recognizing Hodgson was the best kickoff specialist on the roster and using him even though Michael Hunnicutt is one of the top kickers in the nation.
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Friday, we take a closer look at the kicking specialists to wrap up the series.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt was close to automatic for the Sooners in 2013.
Starter/contributors: K Michael Hunnicutt (Sr.), K Nick Hodgson (Sr.), P Jed Barnett (Sr.)

Hunnicutt was outstanding. He made 24 of 27 field goals, 47 of 48 extra points and even had a touchdown reception against Oklahoma State. What more can you ask for? Especially since Hunnicutt solidified a position that was in major flux when he arrived on campus.

Hodgson went unnoticed but led the Big 12 in yards per kickoff (63.7), touchbacks (43) and kickoff touchback percentage (62.3 percent). He was a key contributor for an OU’s special teams group that was among the Big 12’s best.

Barnett was average or below average in pretty much every category except punts downed inside the 10-yard line. He put 8 of 65 punts inside the 10 but was ninth in the Big 12 in net punting (35.25 yards per punt) and saw 63.2 percent of his punts returned for five yards or more.

On the cusp: P Jack Steed (So.), K Daniel Schwarz (So.)

Steed is an invited walk-on punter who could take over for Barnett when he leaves if he’s unable to unseat the senior in 2014.

Schwarz was Tulsa’s kicker in 2012 before being dismissed from the program and walking on at OU before the 2013 season.

On the recruiting trail: None

OU could look to add another kicker and punter simply to add competition to the roster but there’s no need to recruit a scholarship kicker unless he’s a guy who can handle at least two of the three duties.

Overall Grade: A-

The combination of Hunnicutt and Hodgson could be the Big 12’s best and that pushes this grade above a B while Barnett is solid but not spectacular. The Sooners have two guys on the roster who can take over kicking duties in the future, making the overall future and present look pretty good in Norman, Okla.

Sooners' report card: Special teams

December, 18, 2013
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Jay Boulware had a solid first season as Oklahoma's special teams coach. The special teams helped win multiple games during OU's march to the Allstate Sugar Bowl yet they weren't a dominant unit that did everything well.

Here is a unit-by-unit report card for the Sooners' special teams:

Placekicking: A. Remember the days when each OU field goal attempt was an adventure? Michael Hunnicutt has put those days in the past. He hit 23 of 26 attempts, including 21 of 22 from inside 40 yards. He also hit 41 of 42 extra point attempts. Hunnicutt’s average attempt came from 33.2 yards, so his long-distance ability wasn’t tested much but his accuracy and ability to be automatic on closer kicks cannot be overlooked. His 23 field goals led the FBS and his 26 field goal attempts was second among FBS kickers.

Punting: C+. Jed Barnett had games where he played a key role in the Sooners winning the field position battle but he didn’t finish among the Big 12 leaders in several of the main punting categories. Barnett averaged 41.64 yards per punt, sixth in the Big 12, and was last in the conference in net punting at 35.17 yards per punt. The junior college transfer did rank No. 3 in the Big 12 in punts inside the 10 yard line (13.6 percent). Barnett wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination but he wasn’t a game-changing weapon either.

Kickoffs: A. Easily the most overlooked contributor on the squad, Nick Hodgson was very good. He led FBS and the Big 12 in yards per kickoff (64.3) while his kickoff touchback percentage (65.6 percent), ranked first in the Big 12 and No. 7 among FBS kickoff specialists. OU decided to focus on simply getting touchbacks and taking opportunities out of the hands of kick returners and Hodgson executed that plan with precision.

Kickoff coverage: C-. The Sooners were bad on kickoff coverage, allowing 23.68 yards per kick return, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 106 among FBS teams. Opponents’ average starting position was 26.7 yard line, meaning they had to go, on average, 73.3 yards to score against OU’s defense. Because its kick coverage was subpar, OU was better off going for touchbacks than allowing the opportunity to return a kickoff while trying to pin opponents inside the 25-yard line.

Kickoff return: B. The Sooners averaged 22.76 yards per kickoff return, ranking fourth in the Big 12. Running back Roy Finch was the biggest threat, averaging 27.5 yards per return on 14 returns. The senior returned 28.6 percent of his returns for 30 yards or more. It wasn't a unit that put fear into the heart of opponents but Finch, Trey Franks and Brennan Clay consistently put OU in pretty good position to begin drives.

Punt coverage: F. OU allowed 16.33 yards per punt return, ranking ninth in the Big 12 and No. 117 among FBS teams. Yikes. The Sooners are lucky their horrible punt coverage didn’t cost them a game. It’s an area that must improve in 2014.

Punt return: A+. As bad as OU’s punt coverage was, the punt return game was better. That unit actually turned the momentum of games around, particularly with Jalen Saunders' punt returns for touchdowns against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Saunders averaged 16.78 yards per punt return, second in the Big 12 and No. 7 in the FBS.

Overall: B. Hodgson, Saunders and Hunnicutt are stars but OU’s coverage units were average or below average. Nonetheless, the Sooners won some games thanks to their special teams.
A look at who was up and who was down in Oklahoma’s 52-7 win over Kansas on Saturday.

THREE UP

1. The Sooners' maturity: Several Sooners said after the game that this might be a different team than last year. Its focus and intensity while preparing for Kansas was a early sign of the eventual outcome. The atmosphere in the practices leading up to the game was much different than the atmosphere as OU prepared for Texas Tech in 2011, a game which the Sooners suffered an upset loss.

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