Sizing up the ACC: Tigers looking for more from kick returns, coverage in '13

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro and kicker Spencer Benton celebrate a 32-yard field goal to beat LSU 25-24 at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro and kicker Spencer Benton celebrate a 32-yard field goal to beat LSU 25-24 at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.

Phil Steele probably isn’t the Clemson faithful’s favorite college football expert right now – no Tajh Boyd among his All-America QBs and projecting the Tigers to the…Russell Athletic Bowl.

He does, however, have some interesting statistics – including a mashup of special teams stats to measure the unit as a whole.

The last two years, Clemson averaged the 47th-best special teams group nationally, which is in the upper tier of the ACC.

Best in the ACC and the nation? Florida State has posted back-to-back seasons in the No. 1 spot behind an accurate, long-distance kicker (Dustin Hopkins – 25/30, 5-6 from 50+ in 2012) and a top-11 kick coverage average.

Worst in the ACC and maybe the nation? Virginia – No. 109 average the last two seasons (…probably all because of this).

Breaking down this year's special teams units, let's start with the kickers…

Top-5 2012 ACC Kickers – Field Goals (Long)

1. Chandler Catanzaro (Clemson) – 18-of-19 (50)

2. Nate Freese (Boston College) – 18-of-20 (45)

3. Ross Martin (Duke) – 20-of-23 (52)

4. Cody Journell (Virginia Tech) – 20-of-25 (42)

5. Ross Krautman (Syracuse) – 15-of-23 (47)

Top-3 2012 ACC Punters – Average (team net)

1. Will Monday (Duke) – 44.6 YPA (38 net)

2. Tommy Hibbard (UNC) – 43 (40.2)

3. Pat O’Donnell (Miami)* – 41.8 (35)

*transfer

Catanzaro is nation’s active leader in field goals (54), making 26 of his last 27 attempts stretching back to 2011.

Duke has a pair of rising sophomores among the returning ACC leaders. Martin, a placekicker, was a consensus freshman All-American, while Monday led the league in yards per punt.

On to kick coverage and returns…

Top-5 2012 ACC Returners

1. KR Duke Johnson (Miami) – 892 yards/33 YPKR/2 TDs

2. KR Stefon Diggs (Maryland) – 713 yards/28.5 YPKR/2 TDs

3. KR Jamal Golden (Georgia Tech) – 652 yards/28.3 YPKR/2 TDs

4. KR Demetri Knowles (Virginia Tech) – 595 yards/28.8 YPKR/1 TD

5. PR Spiffy Evans (Boston College) – 278 yards/25.3 YPPR/1 TD

Top-3 2012 Kick Coverage (national rank) /Punt Coverage (NR)

1. Syracuse – 16.27 YPA (2)/Georgia Tech – 4.45 (14)

2. Florida State – 16.9 (4)/UNC – 4.94 (20)

3. Miami – 18.12 (10)/Clemson – 6.5 (34)

Clemson finished in the top-35 in punt coverage…and 105th on kickoffs last season.

A key for ’13 could be more touchbacks from the strong-legged sophomore Bradley Pinion, as they forced one 52 percent of the time last year. The nation’s best was 75.5 percent (UCLA). Of course, FSU did the opposite, skying kickoffs around the goalline, and in turn, reaping a top-five kick coverage unit.

On the returner side, four of the conference’s best last season were freshman – led by Miami running back Duke Johnson (33 yards per return).

A pair of ACCers who topped that list in 2011 will look to make a return in Sammy Watkins, who’s average dropped by 7.2 yards last season (25 to 19.8), and UNC’s T.J. Thorpe (26.7 YPR), who sat out last season due to injury.

Ranking the ACC Special Teams Units

(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers. 2012 stats unless otherwise noted.)

1) Florida State

Returning Kickers: P Cason Beatty (38.3 YPP/23 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: PR Rashad Greene (20 returns-307 yards-15.4 yards per-4 TDs), KR Lamarcus Joyner (18-424-23.6)/Karlos Williams (13-340-26.2).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 4/100. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 1.

2) Boston College

Returning Kickers: K Nate Freese (18-20, 2-4 from 40+).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Spiffy Evans (34-631-18.6)/PR Evans (11-278-25.3-1 TD).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 32/64. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 47.

3) Duke

Returning Kickers: K Ross Martin (20-23, 7-8 from 40+), P Will Monday (44.6 YPP/19 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: NA.

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 67/117. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 20.

4) Miami

Returning Kickers: NA.

Returning Kick Returners: KR Duke Johnson (27-892-33.0-2 TDs), PR Phillip Dorsett (15-85-5.7).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 10/97. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 17.

5) Virginia Tech

Returning Kickers: K Cody Journell (20-25, 6-10 from 40+), P A.J. Hughes (40.6 YPP, 22 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Demitri Knowles (21-595-28.3-1 TD), PR Kyshoen Jarrett (18-250-13.9-1 TD).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 94/46. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 37.

6) Clemson

Returning Kickers: K Chandler Catanzaro (18-19, 5-6 from 40+).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Sammy Watkins (13-257-19.8), PR Adam Humphries (18-86-4.8).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 105/34. Phil Steele special teams ranking: 60.

7) Maryland

Returning Kickers: K Brad Craddock (10-16, 4-6 from 40+), P Nathan Renfro (39.7 YPP/15 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Stefon Diggs (25-713-28.5-2 TDs)/PR Diggs (22-221-10).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 55/95. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 76.

8) N.C. State

Returning Kickers: K Niklas Sade (13-23, 5-12 from 40+), P Wil Baumann (38.9 YPP/16 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: PR Rashard Smith (34-316-9.3-1 TD).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 36/69. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 33.

9) Syracuse

Returning Kickers: K Ross Krautman (15-23, 3-7 from 40+), P Jonathan Fisher (38.4 YPP/18 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Jeremiah Kobena (22-436-19.8), PR Ritchy Desir (20-105-5.2).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 2/111. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 99.

10) UNC

Returning Kickers: P Tommy Hibbard (43 YPP, 19 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Sean Tapley (31-725-23.4-1 TD)/T.J. Thorpe.

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 98/20. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 9.

11) Georgia Tech

Returning Kickers: P Sean Poole (39.7 YPP, 8 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Jamal Golden (23-652-28.3-2 TDs), PR Golden (17-248-14.6).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 102/14. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 101.

12) Wake Forest

Returning Kickers: K Chad Hedlund (3-3, 1-1 from 50+), P Alex Kinal (40.7 YPP/28 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Deandre Martin (10-177-17.7).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 92/85. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 124.

13) Pittsburgh

Returning Kickers: P Matt Yoklic (41.8 YPP, 19 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Lafayette Pitts (30-729-24.3).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 42/118. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 62.

14) Virginia

Returning Kickers: P Alec Vozenilek (40.6 YPP, 22 inside 20).

Returning Kick Returners: KR Khalek Shepherd (42-929-22.1), PR Shepherd (23-89-3.9).

2012 kick/punt coverage rankings: 119/81. 2012 Phil Steele special teams ranking: 112.

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Cechmf#288190 writes:

Cover the seams, hit with reckless abandonment.

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