Going back to Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Birmingham, Coach Gus Malzahn emphasized that for his Auburn team to be successful this year it has to do a better job of winning close games. I believe he is 100 percent right.
Playing in this conference with so many good teams, especially the SEC West, if you are going to win a championship you can’t get through a season without winning some close games. Everyone plays a part in making that happen on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but if the teams are fairly evenly matched there is a good chance that the kicking game will decide who wins and loses.
A field goal, a missed field goal, a blocked field goal, a kickoff return for a score, a big play in the punting game or a turnover on special teams can change the final result. Auburn has generally been good on special teams in recent years, but a notable exception was the 2013 national championship game loss to FSU when the Tigers gave up 17 points in the kicking game to lose 34-31.
From the few times I have been at Auburn practices this preseason I have been totally impressed with the amount of time and effort the Tigers have spent on all phases of their kicking game. Because of that, because of the talent of the kickers, I think special teams should be a strength of the 2016 team.
I believe Daniel Carlson is as good as any field goal kicker in the nation. It looks like the Tigers have two good punters with the returning starter, senior Kevin Phillips, being challenged by redshirt freshman Ian Shannon. From what I have seen the deep snapping has been excellent. I can’t remember seeing a bad snap in the spring or preseason.
The Tigers have got excellent return people with Rudy Ford and Kerryon Johnson back to return kickoffs again this year and Marcus Davis returning the punts again this season. I think Davis is going to give the Tigers some big plays.
If Auburn is involved in close games this year I like the Tigers’ chances against anybody in those games if the special teams performance turns out to be as good as I think it will be.