Thursday, December 27, 2012
Grading the positions: Special teams
By Sam Khan Jr.
In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we conclude the series with a look at the special teams:
Texas A&M utilized players such as starting running back Ben Malena to find success on special teams.
Highlights: The first thought that might come to the mind of many Aggies when thinking about special teams is the inconsistency in the field goal department. But special teams is more than field goals, and there was a lot of good about Texas A&M in the third phase in the game. As a team, the Aggies ranked ninth in the nation in net punting (40.3 yard net average per punt). Punter Ryan Epperson didn't have enough punts to make the FBS leaders, but if he did, he would have ranked in the top 30 in gross average per punt (42.8 yards). The Aggies also were good covering kicks and punts. They ranked 17th in the nation in kickoff return yardage defense and 27th in punt return yardage defense. And senior Dustin Harris finished 11th in the country in punt return average (13.1 yards per return) and the Aggies ranked 12th as a team in the category.
Lowlights: The biggest lowlight was the aforementioned field goal struggles. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bertolet hit just 13-of-22 attempts, making field goals at a 59.1 percent clip. He was good inside the 30 (8-of-9 attempts) and from 50 or longer (3-of-4). It was from 30-49 yards that he was at his worst. He hit 2-of-9 attempts from that distance (1-of-6 from 30-39 yards; 1-of-3 from 40-49 yards). The inconsistency was frustrating for Aggies observers, especially considering his ability to hit from long range (he had a long of 54). On the bright side, he was good on kickoffs, recording 61 touchbacks on 96 kickoffs.
Surprises: One surprise could be that the Aggies did not return a kickoff for a touchdown this year. True freshman Trey Williams assumed the return duties on kickoffs and broke a 76-yarder against LSU but got caught before he could get to the end zone. He averaged 22.7 yards per kickoff return this year.
Grade: B. While the field-goal struggles were glaring at times, it shouldn't override the rest of the special teams, which was solid overall. Much of special teams is about field position and the Aggies' ability to cover kicks often left them on the winning end of those battles. The punt return game was also good with Harris, so there's a lot of positives to take away for the Aggies and special teams coordinator Brian Polian, who did a solid job. He utilized guys from across the spectrum, including players such as starting running back Ben Malena, who was a special teams standout all season long.