Auburn Looking For Edge On Special Teams

Auburn kicker Cody Parkey and Coach Jay Boulware talk about the play of the special teams heading into the Iron Bowl.

Auburn, Ala.—When you look at the numbers on both offense and defense heading into Saturday's Iron Bowl game, the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide holds a decided advantage over the 24th-ranked Auburn Tigers in both areas. However, there is another phase of the game that has always played a big part in wins and losses in the game of football and in that area Coach Gene Chizik's Tigers have an opportunity to change the field on Saturday.

With one of the top special teams units in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers are led by sophomore kicker Cody Parkey and fellow sophomore punter Steven Clark. Throw in a talented kickoff return team and you have the one clear advantage for Auburn heading into Saturday's game.

Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said his group is anxious to do its part, but it's going to take the entire team to get a win.

"I don't think that we on special teams ever win a game by ourselves," Boulware said. "It's a team effort collectively. We may make some plays in there that will enhance our opportunities ala South Carolina and Utah State this year, but we don't win the games. It's a team effort. It's offense and defense and special teams."

Named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter, Clark has 64 punts this season with an average of 40.4 yards. He has put 30 punts inside the 20 and that ranks him tops in the Southeastern Conference and second in the nation.

With 33 fair catches and two touchbacks, only eight of Clark's punts have even been returned this season for just 41 yards. Of the eight returns, four have gone for zero or negative yardage. Boulware said that Clark has been very good this season, but it shows how well the entire punt team has played.

"I'm proud of him," Boulware said. "It's a tremendous honor, but it really is a team award just like all those awards are. It's my understanding they really look at the statistics hard such as average, return yards given up, things like that. That brings the team involved in it and our guys getting down covering his kicks. It's a tremendous honor for him as a sophomore to be in that position."

On the other side, Alabama punter Cody Mandell is averaging 38.8 yards per punt with 10 of his 33 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. With 14 fair catches he's also done a very good job in keeping opponents from returning kicks, but the advantage goes to Clark.

In the place-kicking game Parkey has been outstanding this season for Auburn, hitting on 11-15 field goals and 34-35 extrapoints. It's on kickoffs though where Parkey has done best work. Kicking off 56 times this season, Parkey has 31 touchbacks with an average of 68.7 yards per kickoff.

Alabama's field goal and kickoffs have been anything but consistent this season. Jeremy Shelley has done a solid job as the short field goal kicker by making 14-18 overall and 14-16 inside 40 yards. Cade Foster has handled the longer field goals and is just 2-9 this season outside 40 yards. On kickoffs is where things have been a struggle for the Crimson Tide as they have just three touchbacks in 76 kickoffs this year.

That gives Parkey a chance to be a difference-maker for Auburn in his first Iron Bowl as a contributing player. After watching from the sidelines last year he noted that he's ready for his chance to play in the rivalry, but also knows he's got to remain calm in order to do his job.

"I'm excited," Parkey said. "Last year I didn't get to play in it. I watched Wes (Byrum) play. I'm ready to take over. It's my first Iron Bowl playing in it and I'm ready to execute and have a great game.

"Sometimes you just want to be amped up, jacked up, but you've got to keep your cool and execute. I can't say that enough, because as a kicker, you only get one shot, extra point, field goal, kickoff. You don't get plays over and over again. You have to go out and execute and be perfect."

A three-touchdown underdog despite owning a 20-2 record under Chizik at home the last three seasons, the Tigers know they'll have to play very well for 60 minutes to win on Saturday. That's something that Parkey said starts with the kicking game and he's hoping it will carry over to the rest of the team and lead to a big win.

"We feel very confident in all four aspects of special teams, in field goals and everything," Parkey said. "I've got a great snapper, a great holder, a great punter, we have all the aspects going of us, so we feel like we can be a big part in this game and contribute in every way possible."

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