If Arizona State wants to be a top team in the nation, then the Sun Devils must win close games. Often, closely contested football games come down to some portion of special teams. Head Coach Todd Graham understands this, and he has strong expectations for his Arizona State Sun Devils. After the tough road loss at Missouri this past season, Graham stated, “Every game that we win special teams, we’ll win. We have to win special teams.” Obviously improving special teams will be a main focus for 2013.
First, the Sun Devils can no longer rely on punter Josh Hubner. Hubner is taking his 2012 NCAA second ranked 47.1 yards per punt to the NFL, so ASU needs to find its replacement. Hubner could kick for distance with the necessary hang time, but he also could down punts inside the 20 in the field position game. Hubner was a tremendous weapon for the defense with his skills. Back-up walk-on punter Dillon Jackson is no longer with the program, so in 2013, ASU may have to turn to incoming freshman Matt Haack. Haack, a rugby-style punter and wide receiver from Iowa, will join the program this summer. With no clear punter on the roster this spring, punt alignment and coverage will have to transition with Haack this fall just prior to the season starting.
Place-kicking responsibilities will once-again be under scrutiny in 2013. Last season, Alex Garoutte started the year, but walk-on Jon Mora finished. Garoutte was six-for-eleven in field goals, and Mora finished the season nine-for-twelve. While Mora had a slightly higher completion percentage, Mora didn’t make a field goal greater than 39 yards last season. Overall, ASU placekickers were 15 for 23 which left 24 total points off the scoreboard for the Sun Devils in 2012. Certainly in 2013, the Sun Devils will need either Garoutte or Mora to step-up and consistently make field goals.
Kick-off and punt coverage are the other portion of special teams. Only mentioned when there is a breakdown, the coverage units will undergo a slight transformation. Coach Graham often put starters and seniors on coverage units in 2012, which helps with getting onto an NFL roster, but it makes Sun Devil fans nervous seeing starters Deveron Carr, Alden Darby, and Marion Grice in full speed collisions. Ten junior college players added to the program in the 2013 signing class can immediately participate on special teams coverage units. This should allow starters like Darby and Grice to get some more rest during games.
2013 is a big year for special teams as the Sun Devils need to replace Josh Hubner, to find a confident and solid place kicker, and to field a fast, discipline coverage unit. Hopefully the Sun Devil coaches can find the winning combination of special teamers so that ASU can win more in 2013.