Special Teams Under The Gun

During the 48-10 loss to Nebraska last week, ASU's special teams were clearly the weakest link on the Sun Devils' squad. With two blocked punts, one returned for a touchdown, this unit and its coach Tom Osborne came under an incredible amount of scrutiny. In this exclusive interview Coach Osborne addresses what transpired in Lincoln, and other topics regarding ASU's special teams.

DevilsDigest: Coach, I'm sure you heard all the opinions about the special teams' showing on Saturday. After watching game film and dissecting their performance, what are your feelings on what happened?

Tom Osborne: We had four bad plays. We also had 32 good ones, but we can't have four bad ones. You have to have 36 good ones. Those four bad ones killed us.

DD: When you breakdown all the mishaps in the punting game, what do you attribute them too?

TO: First blocked punt was a true freshman tackle (J. Williams) who got beat because of technique. You have to learn the hard way sometimes. The second blocked punt the guy (A. Williams) flat out got beat bad. The timing, get off, and snap were all good. But you just can't let two guys running free at the punt.

DD: What is punter Tim Parker's psyche after this game? Do you think he'll be able to successfully bounce back?

TO: I hope so. He had one shank at the game…He did average 43 yards, but you can't have that one shank. That shank killed us. I told him that Nick Murphy's first ever punt went for zero yards, and that was here at home, not at Nebraska. As a punter, you can't be 9 out of 10. You have to be 10 out of 10. The good thing is that he did well despite those block punts and the one shank. I think he'll do well this week.

DD: Another glaring problem were the kickoffs, which never went for touchbacks. Was that by design, or do our kickers not posses the necessary leg strength?

TO: The first one was a panic kick – the kicker just was too tight. The second one had a 4.4 second hang, that landed at the goal line. The third one was a 4.45 hang at the 5-yard line. If the option is to get the ball in the end zone, three yard deep, with a 3.85 hang time, there's no question we'll always choose the hang time. But if you told me before the game that we're gonna hold Nebraska to 20 yards of return, I would tell you you're on something (smile). That was one of the best team return teams in the country, and we did a real good job on them.

DD: Last year field goal kicker Mike Barth also assumed the kickoff duties, but this year Greg Pieratt won the job. Do you anticipate Pieratt handling the kickoff duties for the rest of this season, or could Barth still win them back?

TO: In fall camp we charted all kickers. Pieratt did better with his hang time, and he did kick a lot of balls in the end zone. To cover kicks well you have to have a good hang time, and he does a better job with that. Him and Barth are both great players. It's just that Pieratt was a little better, and we always play the best guy.

DD: Last year special teams got off to a very rocky start, before vastly improving the rest of the season. Do you anticipate that trend to repeat this year?

A: You don't get second and third down in special teams. If you have four bad plays, and 36 great plays, everybody will remember the four bad ones. Our coverage teams were AWESOME against Nebraska. But those four bad plays…you just can't win with them. The goal is always try to get 100%. On special teams there are always so many little things that can happen. Our guys do understand that, and if they don't now they'll never will.

Q: Is it easier to take your lumps on special teams against a team like Nebraska, rather than Eastern Washington?

A: No. When you don't do something well, it doesn't go well against anybody. We are perfectionists and we're competitors. We want to do things right all the time, not 9 out of 10. It only takes one guy to blow coverage and have a punt blocked. We can't have that happen this week.

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