Midseason Gradebook: Special Teams

There have been some highlights and lowlights for Ohio State's special teams halfway through the 2009 season. BuckeyeSports.com tries to make sense of it all in this midseason gradebook. See the grades given to the kickers, punters and return men and voice your opinion on our message boards.

Ohio State's special teams units have been a mixed bag so far this season.

Senior placekicker Aaron Pettrey has shown an ability to make impressive field goals from long distances, but he has also missed some kicks that have been much closer. Punter Jon Thoma has helped the Buckeye defense by consistently giving opponents bad field position, but his season stats are not spectacular. The returners have contributed one highlight reel touchdown but have done little else.

Buckeye Sports Bulletin's midterm grades for the special teams follow.

Kicking
Pettrey was primarily used as the long-distance field goal specialist in 2008, and midway through the '09 campaign, that appears to be where he is still most comfortable.

The senior from Raceland, Ky., has made 11 of his 14 attempts this season for a 78.6 percentage. Included in those makes are five field goals of more than 40 yards. In fact, Pettrey hasn't missed a kick this season from beyond 40 yards.

"Last year he was the long guy, and that was his mentality – use his big leg and just crush the ball," McQuaide said. "Now he's trying to get his focus down and realize the short ones are worth just as much."

Those short ones are still giving Pettrey problems, however. While he is a perfect 3 for 3 from between 40 and 49 yards and 2 for 2 from beyond 50 yards, Pettrey has sprinkled in some misses from far closer. He missed a chip shot 21-yard field goal against Toledo and 29- and 25-yard boots at Indiana.

Pettrey also missed a potentially crucial extra point in the fourth quarter against Navy. After Dan "Boom" Herron scored a 6-yard touchdown to give Ohio State a 29-14 lead, Pettrey's point-after boot clanged off the right upright. The Midshipmen responded with back-to-back touchdowns and had a chance to convert a two-point play to tie the game with under three minutes remaining. Fortunately for Pettrey and the Buckeyes, Brian Rolle intercepted Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs on the two-point play and ran it back for two points for Ohio State.

In addition to his field goal duties, Pettrey has also handled the bulk of the kickoff duties. He has had just two touchbacks in 35 attempts, but the Buckeyes are tops in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage. Ohio State is averaging 45.8 net yards per kickoff, and opponents are managing just 20.24 yards per kickoff return.

Pettrey has handled all but one kickoff this season. Walk-on Devin Barclay had the other – a 59-yard kick against Toledo.
BSB Midterm Grade: B

Punting
There was some concern that there would be a big dropoff this season at punter with the graduation of four-year starter A.J. Trapasso. Thoma, Trapasso's longtime backup, battled redshirt freshman Ben Buchanan for the job this fall, and while Thoma won the job, both have shown they are capable punters during the first half of the season.

Thoma has been the punter in all but one game this season. Buchanan spelled a flu-stricken Thoma against Toledo and performed admirably.

Thoma is just 10th in the Big Ten in punting with a net average of 38.9, but that stat is misleading. Of his 20 punts, nine of them have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. That certainly hurts his net average, but it helps Ohio State's talented defense. Thoma has also added a pair of punts that went for more than 50 yards.

"That's not something I worry about," Thoma said of his net. "If there was such a thing as an ‘inside the 20' stat posted somewhere, I think I'd be doing OK in that. I'm just trying to put our defense in the best possible position and net as many yards as I can."

Thoma, a long-time walk-on, was also rewarded with a scholarship prior to game against Toledo.

Buchanan punted four times against the Rockets, averaging 42.8 yards per kick. He pulled triple duty during the fall, working on field goals, punts and kickoffs.

"I don't really want to choose a spot right now in my redshirt freshman year," Buchanan said before the season. "I think I can still offer the team services in all three areas. If they choose to direct me in one path, I'm obviously going to do that for the best of the team."
BSB Midterm Grade: B+

Returns
Senior Ray Small thrilled his teammates and an Ohio Stadium crowd Oct. 10 against Wisconsin with a 96-yard kickoff return. Unfortunately, that has been the lone highlight for what has been lackluster kickoff and punt return units.

Small ranks just eighth in the Big Ten in punt returns with a 4.0 yard average. He has returned 14 punts for 56 yards. His return for a touchdown was only his second kickoff return of the season. The bulk of the kickoff returns have been made by sophomore Lamaar Thomas, who ranks seventh in the conference with 22.4 yards per return. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 28.2-yard average. However, remove the Small touchdown and that average drops to 23.9. That would be tied for third best in the conference.

Junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher stepped in for Small when the Cleveland Glenville product missed the season opener against Navy. Sanzenbacher returned two punts for 17 yards. The only other player to return a punt this season is DeVier Posey, who returned an Indiana punt 5 yards.

Junior tailback Brandon Saine has made three kickoff returns, including a 54-yard return of the opening kick against Navy. He had a return for no gain against Indiana and a 13-yard return of a kickoff against Wisconsin.
BSB Midterm Grade: C


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