Mid-Season Report Card - Special Teams

We conclude our look at the Gators at mid-season with an assessment of Florida's performances in special teams. The special teams play has been a hodgepodge of plusses and minuses. The Gators have shown the ability to break returns and block kicks, but have also frequently made mistakes on which kicks to field and which ones not to.

Florida has blocked a couple of kicks, but they also allowed a crucial blocked field goal in the loss to Auburn.

Special Teams (B)

The positives -----
Through six games, it is remarkable that the Gators have not allowed a single yard in punt returns. Chas Henry has been disappointing in some areas, averaging just 37 yards a punt. But for a few exceptions he has consistently had excellent hang time, forcing 11 fair catches in his 19 boots. Brandon James is an elite threat in the returning game with both his punt returns (18.9, 1 TD) and kickoffs (29.3). More often than not he gives the Gators excellent field position. Place kicker Joey Ijjas has been solid, making 5-of-7 field goals and all 31 of his extra points.

The negatives ----- Special teams' mistakes played a huge role in Florida's loss to Auburn. In that game the Gators missed a field goal, ran into a punter, wasted an excellent kickoff (touchback) by being off sides, ruined a successful fake punt by not lining up properly and shanked the most important punt of the season for just 26 yards.

After an early burst in the return game the Gators have been getting less and less out of the returns lately as teams have focused on making it very difficult to Brandon James to get good opportunities. James himself has made some mistakes in fielding kicks too close to the sidelines, but recently late in the LSU game costing Florida valuable field position. Overall kickoff coverage has been decent not great.

Looking ahead ----- Unlike other positions there isn't a personnel adjustment or normal player improvement that you can point to here. For the second half of the season the Gators just need to execute better in special teams situations. Chas Henry needs to improve his 36.9 punting average and Joey Ijjas needs to show he can make a long field goal if needed (his current long is 32). You'd like to see better decisions on which kicks to field and which ones not to and make certain not to put the offense in extremely poor field position. You'd like to see a few more blocked kicks and for James to break one or two more for touchdowns. All in all Florida's special teams play has been solid and there's no reason to expect that to change.

So that's my view of this Gator team at mid-season. I thought Florida would be 5-1 at this point, but they couldn't overcome a slew of mistakes against Auburn, nor could they hold on to upset LSU. When I spoke to clubs prior to the start of the season I predicted a 10-2 regular season, but said I thought 9-3 was more likely than 11-1, considering the extremely young defense Florida would be playing with.

Right now the Gators don't need to worry about who is going to beat Tennessee to give them back control of their own destiny in the SEC East. They need to address the areas of concerns outlined in this series and give it their best shot week in and week out for the second half of the season.

For a team to lose its quarterback, top runner, top receiver, center and eleven of the top 13 defensive players, a 10-2 record would be a phenomenal accomplishment. And 9-3 wouldn't be anything to be ashamed of.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel

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