"Just for Kicks" - Special Teams vs. San Jose

Lost in the focus by our fanbase on the Cardinal's decidedly underwhelming offensive effort against the Spartans last Friday was a rather fine outing by the Stanford special teams units. Former Cardinal Aaron Mills shares his takes in another of his illuminating "Just For Kicks" columns!

"Just for Kicks" - Special Teams vs. San Jose St. 


A Win Is A Win, Now It's Time To Wake Up


That opening win against San Jose State was definitely too close for comfort, but a win is a win and I would rather be on this side of the discussion than the one we were on after thoroughly outplaying Oklahoma State and having a loss to show for it.


Here's a little bit of history for a case in point.  My own 1994 Cardinal team went 3-7-1…a dismal looking season on paper.  However, the numbers are very misleading.  We tied Northwestern 41-41, missing a short field goal as time expired.  We lost to UCLA by one point, missing a 32-yard field goal as time expired.  We lost to Arizona State by two points, giving up a fourth and long and losing on a last-second field goal.  We lost to Cal by one point after botching a two-point conversion in the latter part of the game.  Three losses and a tie by a total margin of four points!  With a small bit of fortune, we would have been 7-4 and off to our third bowl game in four years.  I would have rather won sloppily in each of those games then to have to resort to the "Woe is us!" card and how we should have won those games.  Get my point?


We shall leave the woulda, coulda shoulda to San Jose State this week.  I believe that this was a fortuitous wake up call for our team going forward.  If the Spartans were any other team on our schedule, we could very well be 0-1.  Time to move on and make the necessary adjustments for Duke, who routed Florida International 46-26 in their home opener.  The Blue Devils are hungry to avenge their 44-14 loss to Stanford in 2011.


Stanford/San Jose State: Special Teams Notes


If the San Jose State game is any indication of what to expect from Stanford's 2012 specialists (kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Daniel Zychlinski), we are in excellent shape.


The Spartan and Cardinal offensive and defensive units were virtually identical with the exception of San Jose State's two turnovers (Stanford had none). However, it was the superb play of the special teams on Friday night that ultimately tilted the game in Stanford's favor.


Kicking: Grade A

If there was any question about how Jordan Williamson would rebound from a difficult performance against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, he silenced any doubters with an admirable game. Williamson was 2-2 on extra points and 2-2 on field goals.


Extra Point: Stanford 7 San Jose State 0

The first kick of the season went off without a hitch.  Good snap, good hold and Jordan followed through nicely with excellent elevation, making the kick just right of center.


Extra Point: Stanford 14 San Jose State 0

We are off to a quick start.  The snap was a little bit low, with Daniel Zychlinski ("Z") catching the ball cleanly a couple of inches off the ground and making a nice hold.  Williamson's kick was identical to his first extra point, good height and just right of center.


Field Goal: Stanford 17 San Jose State 3

Williamson took a big step in putting his field goal slump behind him (2-7 in his last 9 attempts), by making a 46-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.  Good snap, good hold and Jordan kept his head down through the kick with a nice follow through.  His field goal sailed five feet inside the left upright with what appeared to be at least 10 yards to spare.  In hindsight, that field goal was crucial as the Spartans went on to tie the game at 17-17 later in the third quarter.


Field Goal: Stanford 20 San Jose State 17

The winning points came with 13:15 left in the game as Williamson kicked a 20-yard field goal.  Jordan's kick had excellent elevation once again, and was right down the middle.  Special acknowledgement to "Z" on another nice hold on a low snap.


Punting: Grade A+

In my estimation, Daniel Zychlinski had the best game of his career in a Cardinal uniform and earned every bit of his A+ grade this week.  "Z" had a couple of clutch holds in the kicking game and punted marvelously all night long. Six punts for a 40.5 average and a net punting average of 40.5.  Yes, that's right!  Five of Z's punts were fair catches and the sixth was a directional punt that went out of bounds for no return.  It doesn't get much better than that.


Special Teams Coach Pete Alamar told me that they worked hard on his consistency this spring and fall, and it showed.  On the other side of the ball, the Stanford punt return unit turned in a solid performance with 11.3 yards per punt return.


First Punt: 50 yards

Good snap and Z hit a nice directional punt to the right for a fair catch.  It is a testament to Daniel's leg strength when he can hit a 50-yard punt that results in a fair catch.  Excellent hang time!


Second Punt: 27 yards

This is where a simple box score can be misleading.  Zychlinski's 27-yard punt was exactly what the Cardinal needed, as it was fair caught by San Jose State at the 8-yard line.  Daniel used a rugby-style, end under end punt to perfection.


If Z punts that ball for a touchback, his punting average goes up to nearly 41.8 instead of 40.5, but his net punting average drops to 38.5 from 40.5.  It's easy to see how punting averages can be misleading. I will take that 27-yard punt every time.


Third Punt: 36 yards

I am not certain if Z was punting into the wind or not, as it was a regular punting situation and the punt was a bit shorter than expected.  However, the punt resulted in another fair catch at the Spartan 18-yard line.


Fourth Punt: 48 yards

Daniel showed some athleticism by nicely handling a low snap to his left.  Facing a little pressure from his right, Z inched slightly to his left (in his delivery) out of harm's way and hit a high hanging punt for a fair catch.


Fifth Punt: 39 yards

Fifth punt, fifth fair catch.  It's fun being repetitive when the outcome is good.  Z hit another high hanging punt that the Spartan's fair caught at their own 20-yard line.


Sixth Punt: 43 yards

I'm not sure if this was by design because it was difficult to tell by watching the punt.  Z hit a much lower punt toward the left sideline, which got a few yards of roll and eventually went out of bounds at the Spartan 18-yard line (third punt downed inside the 20-yard line).


Kickoffs: Grade B

The kickoff portion of the game for the Stanford specialists was the only area that received a demerit.  The Spartans average field position was the 23-yard line.  However, Stanford had some indecision and hesitation in the kickoff return game, resulting in starting field position inside the 20 yard line.


First Kickoff

The first kickoff was the best overall, as Williamson kicked a deep ball into the left corner with good hang time. The kick returner fielded the ball two yards deep in his own end zone.  After a brief hesitation, he decided to bring it out and the Cardinal coverage unit did an excellent job of hustling down the field, stopping the Spartans cold at the 10-yard line.


Second Kickoff

Williamson drove a deep kickoff down the left side of the field, five yards deep in the end zone for a touchback.  With the new rules change, touchbacks are now spotted at the 25-yard line (formerly the 20-yard line). I don't see that as giving up too much field position if it means keeping our players free from injury on the coverage.  However, if the kick IS returned, then allowing a return out to the 25-yard line IS too much.


Third Kickoff

Jordan hit another nice kickoff down the left side to the goal line.  The kickoff cover unit did a nice job of containing the return to the 22-yard line.  Kickoffs that go down into either corner allow the coverage unit to utilize the sidelines as an extra cover person by squeezing the returner down into a smaller lane.


Fourth Kickoff

There are two reasons why I penalized the special teams on this kickoff.  (1) Jordan came up too quickly with his head and body as he was accelerating through the kick.  This caused his toe to come up and slightly wrap around the ball, resulting in a low hooking kick that went out of bounds inside the 5-yard line.  (2) The timing of this mistake could not have come at a more critical time in the game.  Stanford had just taken a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter and was attempting to wrestle the momentum away from the Spartans who had just scored 14 unanswered points.  The Cardinal defense did an excellent job of shutting down the Spartan offense on that drive, taking away any chance of San Jose State getting anything started again.



All in all, I was quite pleased with the special teams performance.  It is a given that we want and need to win the special teams battle each and every week we step on the field.  We look to see some big plays (game –changing) out of our return units in the weeks to come as our offense and defense get squared away after a less-than-average performance against the Spartans.


Turning our attention to Week 2, my best friend since childhood is a Duke alum and I don't need for him to have any bragging rights over me.  I am sure he is geared up after their pounding of Florida International and our mediocre performance against San Jose State. I have confidence that the Stanford team I know we have will make the necessary adjustments and right the ship.


Until next time, BEAT THE BLUE DEVILS!













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