After a not-so-special special teams performance at Florida, LSU's punt return team looked like a completely different animal against Kentucky.
That was due mostly to the new face
assigned to field kicks – Craig Davis.
"We've been working with him,"
Coach Les Miles said. "He kind of jumped into this thing probably three weeks
ago – or maybe a little bit earlier than that. He's getting better, more
comfortable, and he looked like he wanted to try it. I think the opportunity's
certainly there. So he came in and showed that he's capable. I don't think that
that changes anything. I think we still have to have every able body ready to do
that in key contests. You never know when you might need another
According to Davis, the work of turning
him into a potential punt returner began only this past fall camp. There are a
few very good reasons why he hadn't been looked to as a possibility for the
position until now, his senior season.
"They had a bunch of great guys
back there, you know?" Davis said. "Skyler (Green) and Shyrone
(Carey), watching those guys do it, they made it look easy. They made it look a
lot easier than what it is. But I was just clowning around with Coach one day in
camp, like, ‘Coach, just put me back there.' He put me back there to catch a
couple of punts after practice, and I guess he thought I looked kind of smooth.
So, here I am now."
Davis had never fielded a punt previously in an
organized game, beginning with his high school career. In fact, the greatest
irony of the whole situation is that while at O.P. Walker
High School in New
Orleans, Davis was on the completely opposite end of the
special teams equation. He was a punter.
"I've never returned a punt,"
Davis said. "I
got back to return one in high school and they kicked it out of
Previously this season, the Tigers
had looked to the defensive side of the ball for aid with special teams. While
it didn't appear he would be a gamebreaker at the position, defensive back
Chevis Jackson had done an admirable job in the role. Fans were at least comforted with the
thought of an average of nearly 10 yards per return and no worries that LSU's
defense would have to come right back on the field because of an unforced
But that all changed at Florida when a muffed punt by Jackson resulted in a huge
momentum swing and set the stage for the Gators to get back into the game. That
provided the impetus for Davis' appearance last Saturday.
"A couple of weeks ago we were
having some problems," Davis said. "Chevis (Jackson) had really got
back in a groove fielding it. Unfortunately, last game he had a couple of bad
ones, actually one, but coach just came up to me and said, ‘I've got confidence
in you. So I'm going to put you back there this week.' I came out to practice
this week and took it even more serious."
Davis' teammates "helped" him focus on his new
responsibilities last week to get him ready for the Wildcats, including fellow
wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
"It's exciting," Bowe said of
back in the punt formation. "In practice we all gathered around him and tried to
distract him, but in practice he looked like he was going to come out here and
do a good job. And he did."
Adding punt returner to his regular
duties of wide receiver, Davis brought a new
facet to LSU's special teams against Kentucky. In addition to ball security, he
provided the elusiveness, flash and the sense that every kick was only an
eyelash away from resulting in six points for the Tigers that Green and Carey
had made commonplace.
To go along with four catches for
59 yards in the first half, Davis gained 31 yards on three punt returns,
including a long of 27. Another long return by Davis was called back for a penalty. For a few
seconds, his longest return of the night appeared like it was going to be LSU's
first punt return for a touchdown since Green brought one back against Auburn
last year. But one pesky Wildcat managed to break through the Tigers' wall of
blockers and disrupt Davis' run just enough to bring him
"Just a shoestring tackle that got
me, and I was a little exhausted," Davis said. "We've got a great special teams
coordinator, Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto. They set me up pretty good. I had
great blocks from my teammates, and it couldn't be better."
Throughout his career at LSU,
Davis has shown
some of the surest hands of any wide receiver in history. For the rest of the
season, it appears those good hands will have more chances to make great things
happen on the field.
"It sure did look like he was
comfortable back there, didn't it?" Miles asked rhetorically. "He'll get the
opportunity to do that again."