Special teams often go under-appreciated, but they can affect a game in a number of ways. Beginning this week, Saturday Down South is giving the SECs special teamers the credit they deserve in the weekly Special Teams Index.

KICKOFFS

Vanderbilt continues to return kickoffs at a greater rate than any other team in the SEC, indicating it allows more opponent scores than any other team in the conference. The Commodores have returned more than twice as many kickoffs as most other teams in the conference, resulting in a whopping disparity between their kickoff return numbers and everyone else’s.

No. 1 Mississippi State has returned the fewest kickoffs of any team in the SEC, due in part to the limited number of opponent scores it allows and in part to its lackluster return units. The Bulldogs also have one of the worst yards per return averages in the SEC at just 20.8 yards per return.

Arkansas has the best average return yardage at 27.9 yards per return, just ahead of Kentucky’s 27.6 yards per return. Ole Miss has the worst return average as the only team to average fewer than 20 yards per return, but the Rebels also boast the SEC’s top scoring defense, resulting in just 11 returns on the season.

Team Kickoff Returns Return Yards Return TDs
1. Vanderbilt 35 731 2
2. Alabama 19 460 0
3. Texas A&M 20 457 0
4. South Carolina 21 437 0
5. Tennessee 17 400 0
6. LSU 16 368 0
7. Arkansas 13 363 1
8. Florida 16 329 0
9. Kentucky 11 304 0
10. Missouri 12 293 1
11. Auburn 12 254 0
12. Georgia 11 248 1
13. Mississippi State 10 208 0
14. Ole Miss 11 202 0

When it comes to kickoff coverage, no one in the SEC has allowed fewer return yards than Missouri, due in large part to the number of touchbacks booted by Missouri’s kickers this year. LSU has allowed the second fewest return yards on the year, and Mizzou and LSU have kicked the most touchbacks of anyone in the conference (LSU with 27, Missouri with 22).

Only two SEC teams have allowed kickoff returns for touchdowns this year, and only one team has allowed multuple return touchdowns. That team is South Carolina, which allowed two return touchdowns to Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims in a 14-point win over the Commodores earlier this season. The Gamecocks have allowed the fifth most return yards in the conference despite having the fifth fewest kickoffs returned, and that yardage total was inflated dramatically by Sims’ big game earlier this year.

Team Opponent Returns Return Yards Allowed Return TDs Allowed
1. Missouri 11 256 0
2. LSU 14 277 0
3. Vanderbilt 14 326 0
4. Auburn 15 357 0
5. Florida 18 399 0
6. Texas A&M 22 423 0
7. Kentucky 22 439 0
8. Ole Miss 24 469 0
9. Mississippi State 27 494 0
10. South Carolina 17 495 2
11. Tennessee 25 506 0
12. Georgia 28 541 0
13. Arkansas 28 591 0
14. Alabama 28 625 1

PUNTS

Florida is one of only three SEC teams to return fewer than 10 punts this season, yet the Gators are third in the SEC in punt return yardage thanks in large part to Andre Debose’s 62-yard punt return touchdown in last week’s loss to LSU. (We’ll talk more about that return later in this piece.)

Auburn is second in the conference in total punt return yardage, having returned 10 punts for a total of 230 yards, padded by Quan Bray’s two return touchdowns this season to lead the SEC. Only two other teams can claim a punt return touchdown this season: Georgia and Vanderbilt.

South Carolina’s punt return unit hasn’t been any better than the rest of its special teams units, as the Gamecocks are last in the conference in returns and return yardage. The return game’s lack of an impact has killed South Carolina in field position battles, which hasn’t helped a Gamecocks defense ranked near the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories.

Team Punt Returns Return Yards Return TDs
1. Georgia 22 243 1
2. Auburn 10 230 2
3. Florida 8 213 1
4. Texas A&M 12 190 0
5. Kentucky 19 160 0
6. LSU 14 121 0
7. Missouri 10 117 0
8. Alabama 13 114 0
9. Arkansas 12 112 0
10. Mississippi State 14 91 0
11. Vanderbilt 11 85 1
12. Tennessee 8 78 0
13. Ole Miss 10 55 0
14. South Carolina 6 35 0

Kentucky did not allow a single punt return yard in last week’s win over Louisiana-Monroe, and the Cats still lead the SEC in fewest returns allowed, fewest total return yards allowed and fewest yards per return allowed. Kentucky is one of three SEC teams to have allowed fewer than five punt returns on the season, and one of two SEC teams to have allowed fewer than 10 return yards all year.

Three teams in the conference have allowed more than 10 punt returns on the year, but those teams have varied in their coverage on those returns. Tennessee has allowed the most returns in the SEC with 15, but opponents have gained just 60 yards on those 15 punts, an average of only four yards per return.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt and LSU have each allowed 14 returns on the year, and those two teams are the only two to have allowed punt return touchdowns this season. Those long returns for touchdowns have skewed both teams’ yards allowed totals, and LSU is now the first SEC team to allow more than 100 punt return yards on the season following Debose’s touchdown last week

Team Opponent Returns Return Yards Allowed Return TDs Allowed
1. Kentucky 3 3 0
2. Alabama 2 8 0
3. Georgia 7 13 0
4. Texas A&M 4 21 0
5. Ole Miss 7 29 0
6. Arkansas 9 37 0
7. Florida 8 43 0
8. South Carolina 8 58 0
9. Tennessee 15 60 0
10. Mississippi State 6 64 0
11. Missouri 9 83 0
12. Vanderbilt 14 85 1
13. Auburn 8 91 0
14. LSU 14 117 1

INDIVIDUALS

Darrius Sims still has the most impressive return numbers after his two-touchdown showing against South Carolina, but Christion Jones is not far behind. However, Jones has required five more returns than Sims to reach his total, and the Alabama star has had trouble fielding kickoffs and punts in recent weeks.

South Carolina’s Shon Carson is the only other player in the SEC with at least 400 kickoff return yards this year. Leonard Fournette and Devrin Young round out the top 5 in the SEC, although Fournette’s role as a kick returner may be lessened as he becomes a greater fixture in LSU’s offense in the second half of the season.

Name Team Kickoff Returns Return Yards-TDs
1. Darrius Sims Vanderbilt 14 431-2
2. Christion Jones Alabama 19 426-0
3. Shon Carson South Carolina 15 409-0
4. Leonard Fournette LSU 12 368-0
5. Devrin Young Tennessee 13 280-0

Debose’s punt return touchdown against LSU was the first of his career, and the fifth return touchdown of any kind for his career. He’s now third in SEC history in total return touchdowns, and he now has more punt return yardage than any other player in the conference in 2014. Auburn’s Quan Bray has the second most yardage, although most of it came on two punt return touchdowns against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.

Kentucky’s Demarco Robinson is new to the top 5 this week, although he’s needed more returns than any other player on the list to break into the top 5 in total punt return yardage. The Cats’ senior has emerged as a deadly weapon in the return game in recent weeks, and Kentucky hopes that trend continues in the second half of the season.

Name Team Punt Returns Return Yards-TDs
1. Andre Debose Florida 7 212-1
2. Quan Bray Auburn 8 199-2
3. Isaiah McKenzie Georgia 12 154-1
4. Demarco Robinson Kentucky 17 153-0
5. Marcus Murphy Missouri 10 117-0

Fry has made 10 straight field goals since he missed a 54-yarder in South Carolina’s Week 1 loss to Texas A&M, although he was never at risk of snapping his streak while enjoying a bye with his South Carolina teammates earlier this season. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson and Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis have since matched Fry’s 10 made field goals, but neither has as good a field goal percentage as Fry has this year.

Tennessee’s Aaron Medley and Francisco Velez round out the top 5 in terms of most field goals converted, and Velez is the only kicker in the SEC who has been as accurate as Fry through half the season. Velez has just one miss, but has attempted two fewer field goals than Fry, dropping him to fifth on the list.

Name Team Field Goals Made Field Goals Attempted
T1. Elliott Fry South Carolina 10 11
T1. Daniel Carlson Auburn 10 13
T1. Austin MacGinnis Kentucky 10 15
4. Aaron Medley Tennessee 9 12
5. Francisco Velez Florida 8 9

JK Scott has boomed fewer punts than most other full-time punters in the SEC, but he’s proven his worth with an average of 46.7 yards per punt for the Crimson Tide. That’s the best average in the SEC, although it has been influenced somewhat by a small sample size.

Florida’s Kyle Christy and LSU’s Jamie Keehn have been called into service far more often than Scott (Keehn has booted more than twice as many punts as Scott), but both have averaged just 1.1 fewer yards per punt than Scott has this season.

And Ole Miss punter Will Gleeson continues to impress in his first ever season of organized football. The Australia native has averaged more than 44 yards per punt this season, and he’s helped a nasty Ole Miss defense by controlling the field position battle in every game this season.

Name Team Punts Yards Per Punt
1. JK Scott Alabama 19 46.7
T2. Kyle Christy Florida 28 45.6
T2. Jamie Keehn LSU 44 45.6
4. Will Gleeson Ole Miss 23 44.4
5. Drew Kaser Texas A&M 27 43.8