Special Teams Index: Missouri return game slowly picking up pace
Special teams often go under-appreciated, but they can affect a game in a number of ways. As a result, Saturday Down South is giving the SECs special teamers the credit they deserve in the weekly Special Teams Index.
Missouri jumped from third to first in the SEC in yards per kickoff return following a Week 13 win over Tennessee, but it only improved its average by 0.3 yards per return with just one return for 30 yards against the Vols.
With that said, most teams in the SEC watched their averages drop last weekend, including the conference’s former No. 1 return unit from Arkansas, which allowed its average to drop 0.2 yards per return on one kickoff for 21 yards.
South Carolina experienced the greatest drop in return average of any SEC team in action in Week 13, falling from 12th to 14th in the conference while its average dropped 0.7 yards per return in a win over South Alabama. The Gamecocks’ four kickoff returns were the second-most of any team in the SEC last weekend behind Vanderbilt’s seven returns against Mississippi State. The Commodores’ return average also dropped 0.7 yards per return in a 51-0 loss to the Bulldogs.
There were no return touchdowns or return touchdowns allowed throughout the SEC in Week 13, and there wasn’t much shakeup among the conference’s kickoff coverage units. Mississippi State maintained the SEC’s best coverage unit by limiting Vandy to just 16 yards per return on its seven returns last Saturday night.
Here’s a complete rundown of every SEC team’s numbers on kickoff returns and in kickoff coverage this season:
|Team||Kickoff Returns||Yards per Return||Return TDs|
|6. Texas A&M||41||23.3||0|
|T10. Mississippi State||23||20.2||1|
|12. Ole Miss||22||18.9||0|
|14. South Carolina||35||18.5||0|
|Team||Opp. Returns||Yards per Return Allowed||Return TDs Allowed|
|1. Mississippi State||52||17.6||0|
|2. Texas A&M||28||18.3||0|
|5. Ole Miss||40||20.2||0|
|11. South Carolina||29||23.1||2|
Like the SEC’s kickoff units, there wasn’t much shakeup among the conference’s punt return and punt coverage units in Week 13. Auburn remains the SEC’s best return unit with an average of 17.8 yards per return, making the Tigers the only team in the SEC averaging better than 14 yards per return.
However, Auburn is also tied with South Carolina for the fewest punt returns in the conference this season, allowing Quan Bray’s two long return touchdowns early in the season to heavily influence its average in 2014.
Most teams in action in Week 13 saw a drop in their return average, but just like on kickoffs those drops were marginal. Missouri’s return average dropped a whopping 1.1 yards per return in a win over Tennessee, the largest drop of any team in the conference. Nevertheless, the Tigers maintained their spot at No. 4 among the conference’s return units, thanks to Marcus Murphy’s long punt return touchdown against Florida earlier this year.
Tennessee was the lone team in the SEC to improve its punt return average over the weekend, rising from 6.3 yards per return to 6.7 despite a loss to Mizzou. The Vols returned just one punt against the Tigers but made it count, running it back 14 yards, which is more than double its season average.
Tennessee remains the SEC’s best punt coverage unit, as evidenced by its success in containing Missouri’s return game. The Vols have only allowed opponents 3.2 yards per return on punts this season. Ole Miss and Arkansas are the only other teams in the SEC allowing fewer than four yards per return, but 12 of the conference’s 14 teams are allowing fewer than 10 yards per return.
Kentucky has had far and away the SEC’s worst punt coverage unit this season, which is ironic considering the Cats had allowed fewer than 10 total yards on punt returns at the midpoint of the season. Now they’re allowing more than 13 yards per return, which is three yards more than any other team in the conference, and they remain the only team in the SEC to allow multiple punt return touchdowns this season.
Here’s a full rundown of every SEC team’s numbers on punt returns and in punt coverage this season:
|Team||Punt Returns||Yards per Return||Return TDs|
|2. Texas A&M||20||13.6||0|
|12. Ole Miss||21||5.7||0|
|13. South Carolina||17||5.2||0|
|14. Mississippi State||23||4.3||0|
|Team||Opp. Returns||Yards per Return Allowed||Return TDs Allowed|
|T2. Ole Miss||17||3.5||0|
|6. Mississippi State||13||6.2||0|
|T8. South Carolina||12||7.5||0|
|11. Texas A&M||11||8.5||0|
Tennessee’s Evan Berry (younger brother of former UT star Eric Berry) surged to the front of the pack among SEC kick returners, raising his average to a whopping 30.9 yards per kickoff return in the loss to Mizzou. Berry hadn’t even been ranked in the top 5 among returners in the SEC at any point this season, but he shot to the top of the list thanks to four kickoffs for 121 total yards.
His 13 returns are six fewer than anyone else in the top 5, allowing his four-return showing against the Tigers to sway his overall numbers dramatically. The rest of the top 5 remains the same, although the order has changed. Boom Williams remains second, while Vandy’s Darrius Sims dropped from first to third following a frustrating outing against Mississippi State.
Christion Jones and Speedy Noil each dropped one spot to fourth and fifth respectively, and Noil’s teammate, Trey Williams, was knocked out of the top 5 following Berry’s monster game.
There was far less shakeup among the SEC’s top 5 punt returners, as the five players remained the same and their order changed only slightly. Bray and Debose remained 1-2 in the conference, which is where they’ve sat for most of the season, while Noil and McKenzie swapped places between third and fourth.
Missouri’s Marcus Murphy remains fifth in the conference in punt returns, while Noil remains the only player in the SEC ranked in the top 5 in both kickoff and punt return average this season.
Here’s a full rundown of the SEC’s best individual kickoff and punt returners this season:
|Name||Team||Kickoff Returns||Yards per Return||Touchdowns|
|1. Evan Berry||Tennessee||13||30.9||0|
|2. Boom Williams||Kentucky||19||26.9||0|
|3. Darrius Sims||Vanderbilt||28||25.5||2|
|T4. Christion Jones||Alabama||24||25.0||0|
|T4. Speedy Noil||Texas A&M||21||25.0||0|
|Name||Team||Punt Returns||Yards per Return||Touchdowns|
|1. Quan Bray||Auburn||15||18.1||2|
|2. Andre Debose||Florida||21||14.6||1|
|3. Speedy Noil||Texas A&M||13||13.6||0|
|4. Isaiah McKenzie||Georgia||18||12.7||2|
|5. Marcus Murphy||Missouri||23||12.0||1|
South Carolina’s Elliott Fry was a perfect 3 of 3 on field goal tries in a win over South Alabama, elevating him back into the top 5 in the SEC in field goal accuracy following a one-week hiatus. Florida’s Francisco Velez and Texas A&M’s Josh Lambo remain the SEC’s most accurate kickers after neither was called on in Week 13, and Fry joins them as the only kickers in the conference with at least an 80 percent success rate in 2014.
Georgia’s Marshall Morgan missed a kick from 49 yards away in a win over Charleston Southern, dropping him out of the top 5 in favor of Tennessee’s Aaron Medley, who drilled both of his field goal attempts over the weekend. Morgan did hit another field goal from 53 yards out in the Dawgs victory, but it was not enough to save his field goal percentage from falling out of the top 5.
The SEC’s top punters remained in the exact same order they were in last week, as two of the five enjoyed open dates and two more enjoyed a day off while their teams coasted to victory. The only punter to put his average on the line in Week 13 was Ole Miss’ Will Gleeson, who was called upon twice in a 30-0 loss to Arkansas. Gleeson’s punts total 84 yards, including a 54-yarder downed inside the Arkansas 20.
The Rebels’ Gary Wunderlich was also called upon to punt three times in the loss, limiting Gleeson’s opportunities. Nevertheless, Gleeson’s average only dropped 0.1 yard per punt on the season, keeping him at No. 5 in the conference ahead of Mississippi State’s Devon Bell.
Here’s a complete rundown of the SEC’s best place kickers and punters this season:
|Name||Team||Field Goals Made||Field Goals Attempted||Percentage|
|1. Francisco Velez||Florida||12||14||85.7|
|2. Josh Lambo||Texas A&M||11||13||84.6|
|3. Elliott Fry||South Carolina||16||20||80.0|
|T4. Colby Delahoussaye||LSU||10||13||76.9|
|5, Aaron Medley||Tennessee||18||24||75.0|
|Name||Team||Punts||Yards Per Punt|
|1. JK Scott||Alabama||43||46.8|
|2. Jamie Keehn||LSU||66||45.0|
|3. Drew Kaser||Texas A&M||51||44.4|
|4. Kyle Christy||Florida||53||44.3|
|5. Will Gleeson||Ole Miss||43||43.6|