Winning The Return Game

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Special teams isn't talked about much, but they could play a huge role in the outcome of NC State's upcoming game against Miami.

Special teams isn't talked about much, but they could play a huge role in the outcome of NC State's upcoming game against Miami.

Assistant coach Jerry Petercuskie, who handles the special teams unit for the Wolfpack, has been pleased with his group so far.

"The coverage teams have been pretty solid," said Petercuskie. "Both our punt coverage and kick coverage teams have been pretty good."

State is currently in the top 40 nationally in both punt return defense and kickoff return defense and the Pack had the first explosive return of the year last Saturday when junior Rashard Smith returned a punt 73 yards for a score. It was State's first kick return for a touchdown since T.J. Graham's return in last year's season opener against Liberty.

"Rashard got a chance and made the most of the opportunity," Petercuskie stated. "The guys gave him some good blocks and he took advantage of it."

Petercuskie came to NC State with Tom O'Brien and as recruiting coordinator he has played a major role in the molding of the Wolfpack's current rosters. It has taken some time, but he now believes the program is at a point where the additional depth built through recruiting can benefit, specifically on special teams.

"We've come along in terms of depth," he said. "We've been able to take some of the older guys off the teams because the younger guys are stepping up.

"Those in the second unit have played well enough that we can cutback on some of the reps of the starters, which is obviously good."

Sophomore punter Wil Baumann has also been solid, as he is averaging 40.15 yards per punt, but if there has been a concern for Petercuskie, it has to be the start of sophomore kicker Niklas Sade. The local product has hit just 3-of-6 field goals through four games, but his coach believes Sade will turn it around.

"Nik has had a rough start in my opinion," said Petercuskie. "He knows it and he's upset, but he'll keep grinding because he's a grinder. I think he will improve."

The Pack will face a tough challenge this week from Miami, who boasts one of the most explosive returners in the country in Duke Johnson.

we'll have a big challenge this week with Duke Johnson back there," said Petercuskie. "Phillip Dorsett has also had a couple of returns. They are an explosive group, and it's going to be a big challenge for our group. We'll see how good we really are in the coverage units this week."

A true freshman tailback, Johnson is third in the ACC in rushing (80 yards per game), but is No. 1 nationally in all-purpose yards, as he is averaging 209.5 total yards per game when you factor in rushing, receiving, and returning kicks.

He's a special player," Petercuskie said of Johnson. "Whether it's from the line of scrimmage or in the return game, he's special. He can run it, catch it, and return it. He has great speed and great vision."

Look for the Wolfpack to mix things up when it comes to kicking off to Johnson and the Hurricanes. Teams now take over at the 25-yard line on touchbacks, and Niklas Sade has a big enough leg that he can kick it deep into the endzone with regularity.

"Against The Citadel we wanted to hang the ball up early," said Petercuskie. "Once we got in the lead, the last four kickoffs, I told him to kick it out the endzone. As far as our coverage, that was our strategy. Up until that point we wanted to just kick the ball.

"This week if he can kick it... we'll see what [Sade] can do."

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