Back to the Cougars game.
I thought that the Stanford special teams turned in a steady performance on Saturday. The only problems I observed from the game were on kickoff coverage and punt returns.
Going into the Washington State game, our kickoff coverage was limiting opponents to only 20.4 yards per return. On Saturday, the Cougars had five kickoff returns for 28.4 yards per return (including a 50-yard return to open the second half).
As for punt returns, there were two occasions when Washington State punted the ball while semi-rolling out to the right (like the Duke game), creating situations in which the ball was bouncing on the ground perilously near unsuspecting Stanford blockers. We came away from both scares unscathed with no turnovers, but the bounce of the ball is an unpredictable thing. It's an uncomfortable feeling watching chaotic plays happen that can change the direction of a game in which you are clearly the better team. Coach Shaw has called on Drew Terrell to be more vocal as a returner in alerting his teammates where the ball is during the punt so as to avoid any potential turnovers.
Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the end of the game. Washington State was conserving the clock late in the game in order to put a meaningless touchdown on the scoreboard for some moral momentum going forward. They got what they wanted, making the game 38-14 and taking away our single-digit defensive domination. However, we got the last laugh, taking a little special teams momentum for ourselves when Ty Montgomery returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown as time expired. That is classic "Right Back Atcha" at its best. You score on us during garbage time to get into double digits? Then we are going to have to hang 40 on you. Pure satisfaction.
Stanford 3, Washington State 0
Field Goal: Jordan Williamson lined up on the left hash and calmly booted a 23-yard field goal right down the middle. Great snap, hold and protection all the way around.
:Kickoff: Lining up on the right hash mark, Williamson hung a nice kickoff down to the two. A small hole opened up at around the 17, allowing the returner room to return the kick to the 29-yard line.
Stanford 10, Washington State 0
Extra Point: Great snap, great hold, great protection and Williamson drilled the extra point right down the middle with excellent height. Jordan has great action on his kicks, as the ball really fires off of his foot after contact.
Kickoff: Jordan drove the kickoff a few yards deep into the end zone for a touchback. Anytime we can get a touchback, we'll take it over trying to pin the return team inside the 20-yard line.
Second-half kickoff: I wish that this wasn't the case, but oftentimes the first play of the second half is one of the more poorly executed special teams plays of the game. Again, the Wazzu game was no exception. Williamson kicked a nice, deep ball to the goal line down the left hash mark. The Cougar returner started bringing the kick back up the right side, then at about the 16-yard line he switched field and made a run to the left. The Stanford containment on the backside had collapsed inside too far, allowing the returner to break that containment and turn the corner on the left side, resulting in a big return to midfield. That is no way to begin the second half with a 10-7 lead whiletrying to erase the sluggish play from the first half.
Stanford 17, Washington State 7
Extra Point: More of the same. Williamson has come out in the second half with a fresh leg and continues to kick the ball well. Extra point right down the middle with excellent height.
Kickoff: The kickoff team changed things up a bit as Williamson kicked off from the right hash across the field and into the left corner. Jordan kicked a nice ball, two yards deep into the end zone, and Washington State managed to maneuver their way out to the 24-yard line.
Stanford 24, Washington State 7
Extra Point: Jordan over-rotated his hips on his follow through, causing him to pull the kick left of center. There was no danger of missing the kick…just a slight pulling of the ball.
Kickoff: I like how Coach Polian handled this kickoff play call. Washington State was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the previous play and Stanford kicked off from their 45-yard line. Some coaches elect to kick a very high kickoff in this situation in an attempt to pin the opponent inside the 20, rolling the dice to pin them back deeper. In this case, Williamson was given the green light to kick deep and notched a touchback. The 20-yard line is fine and we don't risk any potential injuries with a kickoff coverage play.
Stanford 31, Washington State 7
Extra Point: Williamson made the extra point with good elevation, down the middle.
(Many gamblers at The South Point in Las Vegas with money on Stanford start breathing easier now with the spread covered. I never bet on any sports but do enjoy the atmosphere of watching the games at the casino. Even if the gamblers are not TRUE Stanford football fans, at least they are fans for a couple of hours, making some noise for the Cardinal! I'll take what I can get!)
Kickoff: Teeing the ball off from the middle of the field this time, Williamson kicked a high, deep ball to the five, and the coverage team did a nice job of limiting the return to 20 yards.
Stanford 38, Washington State 7
Extra Point: Perhaps a little fatigued by this point in the game, Jordan's head and body came up on his follow through, resulting in him contacting higher on the ball and pulling a knuckle-ball style kick inside the left upright. It was in no danger is missing, but had the kick been a 30-yard field goal attempt, it may have missed to the left.
Kickoff: This was a nice way to close out the coverage portion of special teams play. Williamson hit a nice kick into the right corner to the 1-yard line and the coverage unit made it two nice covers in a row, limiting the Cougars to 20 yards on the return.
Stanford 44, Washington State 14
(No extra point or kickoff.)
When you look at the box score and see that David Green only averaged 37.3 yards per punt, you might think he had a subpar performance. But if you watched the game and saw all of Green's punts, you would say that it was a job very well done. There were no returns by Washington State on any of the punts, with one fair caught at the 20, and two downed inside the 10. Coach Polian couldn't ask for much more out of David and his effort against the Cougars.
David Green's first punt from the Cougar 47-yard line had excellent hang time, landing at roughly the 6-yard line, and giving the coverage unit plenty of time to down the ball at the 1.
This punt in particular demonstrated Green's maturity the most to me. On fourth down at the Cougar 36-yard line, David eased off a bit to avoid punting the ball for a touchback and the coverage unit managed to down the ball at the 7-yard line. Had Green punted the ball for a touchback and given the Cougars field position at the 20 yard line, they may have attempted a few medium- or deep-range plays in an attempt to get into field goal position before the end of the first half. Green's downed punt at the seven erased any WSU thoughts of taking that sort of risk, keeping the score 10-7 going into the locker room.
David's final punt of the game was a nice, high-hanging 37-yard punt that Washington State fair caught at the 20 yard line. No muss, no fuss. Three punts for a 37.3 yard average, with no return yards. Green's performance, along with the hustle of the coverage unit, did everything to eliminate any big plays from the Cougars punt return unit.
Despite having a down game in kickoff coverage and some uneasiness from the punt return unit, I grade the Stanford special teams play an A- due to no missed kicks, great punting and a 96-yard touchdown return by Ty Montgomery. We are going to need grade "A" performances from all of our special teams units if we are to make a statement to the nation against a resurgent 5-1 Washington Huskies team. This is our biggest test of the season and it is only going to get tougher from here on out. Go Cardinal!
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Aaron Mills kicked and punted at Stanford University from 1990-94 and was an Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 as a punter in 1993. After graduating from Stanford and having reconstructive knee surgery in 1994, the Satellite Beach, Florida native was invited to participate in the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis in 1995. A 6-0, 180-pound specialist, he ended up kicking for the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League in 1995-96, playing an integral part in San Jose's road to the AFL Western Division title in 1996. That same year, he set an Arena Football League record by making a 63-yard field goal against the Florida Bobcats, which tied the long-standing NFL record (held by Tom Dempsey 1970 and Jason Elam 1998). Aaron retired from kicking after the 1996 season to pursue a career in real estate while continuing to work with aspiring kickers and punters. He currently resides in Las Vegas with his wife and three dogs.
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