At the end of last season, ASU head coach Todd Graham stated that special teams will be a priority for this upcoming season. In his words: “special teams killed us”.
The word ‘kill’ might be a little harsh, but in coachspeak, it makes perfect sense. The special teams were the worst performing units on this PAC-12 South championship team.
Last season, the punt team almost cost ASU two games with bad snaps that were recovered for a touchdown (Wisconsin) or deep in their own territory that led to a touchdown (UCLA). They also had 3 punts blocked. Two came in the first half of the Stanford game that helped dig a 29-0 hole.
Devils in Detail could make a list of shortcomings in the special teams units for every game played. Even the games they won. Recall the Washington game where the offense destroyed the Huskies, the defense dominated–yet, the special teams kept things interesting for a while with poor coverage on punts and kickoffs.
To his credit, coach Graham has recognized this and done something about it. Gone is assistant coach Joe Lorig, who was the special teams coordinator. In came Keith Patterson to help. But it appears that the special teams will be divided up by the coaches and not under the direction of one specific coach, except for Graham himself.
There’s a lot to special teams. There’s the schematic part, the details of the assignments and strategies. Then there’s the personnel considerations. And finally there is the preparation/scouting piece of the puzzle. All these factors are equally important. And they need to be repped to the tune of 20% of the practice time.
This team has the talent at every position to be competent, if not special, in all phases of the kicking game. Coach Graham needs to find new personnel, new schemes, new ways of teaching and new ways of preparing for opponents in this part of the game.
It appears he is doing so. It’s a work in progress, like everything else. But with a new defense this year and some lost weapons on offense, special teams might be more crucial to the success of this team than they were last year. So, it’s quite important to nail it down.