Spartans need special teams improvement

"As far as the punting game goes, what we want to try to do is get Fields into a situation where we just let him kick. I kick myself in the tail for asking him to do too many things and just let him kick the ball."

EAST LANSING - No one single unit hurt the Michigan State Spartans worse than its special teams. From the blocked and missed field goal attempts to the poor kick and punt return coverage, MSUs collective group was a flop.

That should change in '06.

John L. Smith is putting renewed emphasis on shoring up the unit in an attempt to turn what was an overwhelming negative into a positive. MSU can directly attribute two big losses (Michigan and Ohio State) to poor special teams play. Kicker John Goss (4-of-11 field goals) lost his job as a direct result of missing three field goal attempts against Michigan, including two chances to win the game in overtime.

The following week, MSU had Ohio State on the ropes until they allowed a field goal block with was returned by the Buckeyes AShton Youbouty 72-yards for a backbreaking touchdown. Just prior to the block, MSU had move the ball into field goal position and without calling a timeout, an MSU coach waived on the field goal team.

Instead of being up by a commanding 13-point margin, MSU ran off stunned and in disbelief at now being ahead just by three to a team they had thoroughly dominated. Smith uttered the immortal line, "the kids are playing their tails off and the coaches are screwing it up."

In an attempt to remedy the situation, Smith had a gong show audition which uncovered Bridgeman walk-on freshman Matt Haughey. Haughey, they hoped would improve the situation, but instead made only one of five field goals attempts.

MSU recruited freshman Brett Swenson from St. Thomas Aquinas HS in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The freshman was generally viewed as one of the top kicking prospects in the nation and although just 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, routinely boomed kickoffs into the end zone and made a career long 45-yarder.

Swenson won't be available to the Spartans until the fall, but MSU is using the time to put the return and coverage units through some experiments in an effort to find out what works.

"Some of the protections, we're going to go back and take a look at, where we're zone protecting, we're going to go back and take a look at man protections," Smith said.

Smith said he wants to also change the way the punt protection which led to two blocks of kicks by Brandon Fields. Fields came into the season as an all-American candidate but was quickly undone when the coaching staff asked him to expand some of the things he was doing.

"As far as the punting game goes, what we want to try to do is get Fields into a situation where we just let him kick. I kick myself in the tail for asking him to do too many things and just let him kick the ball."

Smith said the coverage has to get better also.

"We'd better find some guys, now that we're getting our depth, that can run down the field and cover the football."


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