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Kentucky Football: A look at special teams

According to Rob Gidel at KSR, UK's coaches expect a lot from special teams this year.  There is a new rule implemented this year which moves the kickoff back to the 30 yard line from the 35.

Before we look at kickoffs, let's look at UK's position in each relevant statistic.

KICKOFF RETURNS          G   Ret  Yds   TD   Avg
3. Kentucky............ 13    43 1033    1  24.0

PUNTING                  G  No. Yards Avg/P   PR  Avg  TB Net/P
6. Kentucky............ 13   56  2104  37.6   80  1.4   5  34.4

PUNT RETURN AVG          G   Ret  Yds   TD   Avg
1. Kentucky............ 13    18  368    1  20.4

FIELD GOALS              G  Made  Att    Pct
8. Kentucky............ 13    11   20   .550

KICKOFF COVERAGE         G  No. Yards   Avg  Retn  TB NetAvg
4. Kentucky............ 13   69  4086  59.2   902  12   42.7

As you can see from above, last year we were one of the best in the SEC at virtually all aspects of special teams play.  But note in particular the kickoff return statistic.  This is what has Coach Brooks and Coach Ortmayer excited.

Keep in mind that our kickoff returners did not include one name who is likely to be there this year - Raphael Little.  Even without Little, we were third in the SEC in kickoff returns, and if you add 5 yards to that average (which is probably light, considering the extra space on the field created by the new rule), you could wind up with some spectacular field position.  Throw that into the mix of our high-powered offense, and you can see the possibilities for yourself.

I see no reason why our punt return unit should be any worse, and hopefully our punting and place-kicking will be improved with returning starters.

Bottom line -- the new kickoff rule plays right into our strength.  Not only that, we will get more shots at kickoff returns.  Last year we lead the SEC in number of kickoff returns with 43, and I don't know but I expect that only represents about 50% of the total number of kickoffs.  Our punting, punt return and place kicking units should be no worse than last year, considering our returning starters. 

Mark Richt, head coach of Georgia, says he expects his team to return 75-90% of kickoffs this year vs. 25% of last year.  Doing some quick math, that would have worked out to about 120 available kickoffs for Georgia.  Assume the same for UK, and I think you can see why Ortmayer and Brooks are excited.

We returned kickoffs for 1 touchdown last year, but this year it could go to 3 or 4.  I wouldn't be surprised to see some teams kicking it out of bounds and taking the penalty on the 35 rather than risking Burton and Little setting sail for the end zone.