Noles vs. Tigers: Special Teams to Play Huge Role
Special teams play is often the deciding factor in games that people tend to overlook to some extent. Most who pay close attention to the third, and seldom adequately discussed, phase of the game refer to the benefits of great special teams play as “hidden yardage” or the ability to flip the field. Thus far, the Florida State Seminoles have to be pleased with the play of their special teams unit and the group has the potential to impact this weekend’s showdown with Clemson in a major way.
Replacing Shawn Powell
One of the main concerns for FSU coming into the year was how they would replace All-American punter Shawn Powell. Powell led the nation averaging 47 yards per punt, with 24 of his 57 punts being 50 yards or longer. With Powell punting, the Seminoles pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line 23 times, 15 of which being inside the 10. Shawn Powell’s play allowed for the dominant Seminole defense to routinely face offenses with a long field ahead of them and replacing him would incredibly difficult.
In steps freshman Cason Beatty, who had an extremely poor showing in Florida State’s spring game and gave FSU fans very little to be enthused about. Beatty was highly rated out of high school, but whether or not he would be able to be serviceable, let alone good was very much in question entering the year. To the surprise and delight of the Seminole faithful, Cason Beatty has performed well in his limited attempts so far. He has punted eight times and averaged 39.6 yards per attempt, with a particularly impressive showing against Wake Forest this past Saturday. He managed to pin the Demon Deacons inside their own 10 yard line twice and booted his first 50 yard punt.
The last thing FSU needs is to give up good field position to an already prolific offensive attack.
New Rule = New Strategy
The Florida State Seminoles have taken a new NCAA rule designed to reduce the amount of kicks returned for safety purposes and learned to use it as a tactical advantage. Teams are now required to kick the ball off from the 35 yard line as opposed to the 30 yard line, which will obviously make touchbacks occur more frequently. In addition to moving the ball up five yards before the kick off, the receiving team now gets the ball at the 25 yard line instead of the 20.
In response to the new rule, the Seminoles have decided to kick the ball really high and short of the end zone. This allows their elite athletes to run down field in time to force opposing return men to react and make a play in a very short and confined space, often times well short of the 20 yard line. So far, this strategy has proved ultra effective when executed properly for the Seminoles.
FSU managed to pin Wake Forest inside the 20 yard line on kick offs seven different times on Saturday, opting to kick it out of the end zone on the other opportunities. While this has proven to be very advantageous for the Seminoles so far, one has to wonder whether or not they will elect to pursue the same strategy against the much more athletic Clemson Tigers and their electric return man, Sammy Watkins. Watkins is one of the best players in the entire country and if there is anyone you want to limit touches for as an opponent, it is him. The true sophomore averaged 25 yards per return last season and took one to the house.
Do you take your chances with the dangerous Watkins for the opportunity to pin a prolific offense deep in its own territory on the road? The decision is not so simple. Should Sammy Watkins manage to break out a big time return, it would surely deflate some of the air out of what is sure to be an incredible home crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Life after Greg Reid
One of the preseason blows that FSU suffered was the loss of big time playmaker, Greg Reid. Just prior to this season’s fall camp, Reid was dismissed from the team for repeated violation of team rules. This left a major void in the Seminoles’ return game as Reid has been a staple in kick and punt returning for three straight seasons.
True sophomore Rashad Greene seized the opportunity to take over punt return duties and so far, FSU has to be pleased with the result. Greene, who has proven himself to be a potential superstar on offense at receiver, is now showing flashes of being a special player in the return game as well.
In the kick return game, the Seminoles have not had many opportunities to show off their weapons in Lamarcus Joyner and Karlos Williams. Florida State has only returned two kicks in 2012, mainly due to the fact that the defense has only allowed one score. Last season, Lamarcus Joyner averaged 30.5 yards per return and Williams averaged 23.4 yards, not including a 97 yard TD that was called back against Miami. These are two very electric playmakers and considering the improvement in competition, they may have their opportunity to return something on Saturday night.